South Korea food delivery giants rev up rider race amid COVID-19 boom

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In South Korea, a number of the world’s biggest food delivery firms are scrambling to browse an estimated $4 billion wave of fresh orders, contracting tens of thousands of new riders in a boom triggered by the scourge of this global economy – the coronavirus pandemic.

Korean’s had already developed such an appetite for supper deliveries that the country ranked third in the world last year for meals purchase solutions, based on consultancy Euromonitor. Now, demanding social distancing principles and work-from-home policies to offset the pandemic have fuelled volatile growth.

South Korea’s food shipping market is predicted to jump 40% this year to approximately $15.4 billion from $11 billion in 2019, statistics from industry research vendor Euromonitor revealed, topped only by China and the US.

Surging coronavirus-era consumer demand has stoked orders, supported meal pricing and created the possibility of a career as a self indulgent rider – earning more per hour than many other part-time jobs – an attractive option for many after the pandemic drove Korea’s jobless rate to some 10-year high earlier this year.

Contractor tasks like delivery riders will continue growing in number below the outbreak, called Kim Sung-hee, professor of labour studies at Korea University, emphasizing the need for government scrutiny of “non-regular work”.

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Responding to the need surge, Woowa Brothers, the operator of top food delivery service Baedal Minjok, said it expanded its pool of bicycle delivery riders this summer by nearly 50 percent from 2,100 previously. Smaller peer Barogo, which like Woowa Brothers doesn’t disclose details of its financial performance – stated it is recruiting 5,000 longer, creating openings for some otherwise improbable riders.

One of those is Chey Young-ah, a 37-year-old former art teacher in Seongnam, 20km south of Seoul. After the pandemic forced courses at her day job to shut, she saw lively delivery orders at a fried chicken restaurant where she worked part-time, opted to be a rider herself rather in mid-August.

“One of the merits of this job is that the entry barrier is low. They don’t care whether you’re a man or a woman, you don’t need a job interview.”

Chey, who owned a motorbike, states she gained around 1.8 million won (approximately $1,565.22) last month while working six to eight hours a day, seven days per week – currently nine days the pay as an art instructor.

Chey rides for Baedal Minjok and Coupang Eats, managed by SoftBank-backed e-commerce firm Coupang. Like other services, delivery jobs are provided to riders on telephone via an app, with cyclists selecting which tasks to take based on space and payment provisions.

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Riders say most orders make them around 3,300 earned per delivery – the minimum rate – with the influx of new riders creating greater competition much to secure those deliveries, and to find the job done quicker.

“The competition is getting fiercer… Some (riders) violate traffic rules to make one more delivery, putting their safety at risk,” said Chey, who herself has already been involved in a small accident.

Delivery organizations are also offering bonuses expecting to secure faster passengers. Coupang Eats said riders can make up to 15,000 won per order, depending on order quantity and weather conditions.

Data from Rider Union, a labour union representing the new dispatch workers, revealed among its members gained up to 585,700 won – equal to 68 hours of work at minimal wage – on a single day in August.

Numbers like this are a magnet in an otherwise depressed tasks marketplace.

You Young-sik, a 28-year-old Seoul internet cafe employee who has seen his cover halved since the coronavirus struck and now fears losing his job, recently signed up for motorbike lessons to get his licence.

“As I was looking for new openings, I figured delivery business is in vogue these days,” said You, who currently earns under 1 million won a month. “Riders’ salary seems way higher than what I get paid today.”

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The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Joori Roh and Sangmi Cha. Additional reporting by Hyun Young Yi and Daewoung Kim. Editing by Kenneth Maxwell.

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