Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

Venezuela’s Late Arrival to Delivery Services

While the world braces for the economic impact of COVID-19 and many are already feeling the strain, a particular type of business emerges in Venezuela, making everyone's lives a bit easier

Up until the arrival of the pandemic, having goods delivered to your door wasn’t common in Venezuela, particularly in the past few years with the distrust for delivery men (who ride the same motorbikes that local criminals use), the bolivar’s low purchasing power and some additional, perhaps exploitative, costs. But now, imported goods stores, restaurants, drug stores, and even clothing and pet stores offer delivery services to stay in business.

The last time 26-year-old Jefferson Viez stepped inside the insurance company he used to work at was on Friday, March 13th. When Nicolás Maduro ordered a general quarantine for Caracas, Miranda and Vargas states, on March 16th, he got a message saying he was suspended from his job until “things went back to normal”. After almost two months, things aren’t back to normal and his savings are but a memory.

Jefferson lives in Artigas, Libertador municipality (Caracas), with his partner, whose salary was also suspended: she works at a clothing warehouse and since it closed because of the quarantine, the owner said he won’t pay salaries until his doors re-open. Jefferson was forced to use his motorbike and offer rides to afford their daily meals, despite the severe gas shortage currently hammering Venezuela.

He says he didn’t find a lot of clients, but a friend of his, who works at an imported goods store called Bodegón Colina Market, recommended him as a delivery man. He’s been working for three weeks, and while there are several bikers taking turns, this job has been his source of income during the pandemic. “I miss my job, I won’t deny it. I like being in an office, but you have to learn how to do a bit of everything. Although there isn’t as much work as people think, at least it’s enough for us to eat,” he says.

Unlike Jefferson, José Cruz has been a professional errand boy on his motorbike for over 20 years now, and that income has allowed him to get a house for his wife, two daughters, and himself in La Vega, a low-income part of Libertador municipality in Caracas. At the time of writing, he isn’t working for a taxi company as he used to, but he’s on the payroll for Bodegón Casa Mía, in middle-class Las Mercedes, Caracas.

He says that, before the pandemic, he used to deliver between three and five orders a day, but today he carries out eight or ten to all parts of Caracas.

His work for this store began in 2019, and he gets paid in foreign currency. He says that, before the pandemic, he used to deliver between three and five orders a day, but today he carries out eight or ten to all parts of Caracas, from Catia and Las Adjuntas in the west to Alto Hatillo in the other side of town. Cruz says he’s sorry that so many Venezuelans have lost their jobs or aren’t earning any money, but he isn’t doing too bad: “Over 40% of the customers I deliver food to, give me a tip. When the shopping list is large, they give me more.”

Some Cry, Others Sell Tissues

Every crisis brings business opportunities, and for Vicente Zavarce, creator of the Yummy app, COVID-19 turned into the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Vicente explains that the Yummy idea was born six months ago, after spending some time working for Postmates, an American company that offers local delivery services for restaurants and other products, popular in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, and Phoenix. The young Los Angeles resident, interested in copying that large scale business model, centralized deliveries in his home country of Venezuela, met with his old friend, Santiago Reggeti (creator of a dark kitchens network, Cuencos), and brainstormed the best way to adapt the concept to our reality.

According to Vicente, the app’s launch coincided with the coronavirus pandemic. However, luck has been on their side, as he says that they never expected to have so many daily orders. He believes this has to do with the app’s safety levels, both to avoid scams and to contact delivery men you can trust.

On account of the pandemic, the company has had a lot of bikers looking for work (whom Vicente calls yummers) but all applicants must provide a certified criminal background check and go through an induction course. Currently, they have 50 delivery men who charge for each delivery. Their working hours are 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., depending on the schedules of their restaurants, who also profit now that they have another channel for sales during these egregious timesand they don’t even have to pay for deliveries. According to Zavarce, before the pandemic, they had around 20 restaurants that wanted to try the app, and now they have over 45, including famous places like Burger Shack, Papa John’s, and Danubio Bakery.

In addition to Yummy, there’s also Tráetelo, Pa’ Hoy Caracas, Flash Delivery, and Yolopido.com, which covers 24 cities across the nation. Also, direct orders to establishments (currently undergoing a surge in cities as different and distant from each other as Valencia, Barquisimeto, Maracaibo, Mérida, and San Cristóbal), are now included in the services of shop and restaurant owners, so they aren’t affected by the “stay at home” rule that’s spelling economic doom for so many people inside Venezuelaand abroad.

Daisy Galaviz

Journalist for El Pitazo and Monitor de Víctimas (Runrunes). Writes for Cosecha Roja, El Espectador, Revista Semana and Historias que laten.