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Honestbee suspends tie-up with FairPrice

Published on: 31-Jan-2019

Full-time freelance personal shopper Desiree Quah had a rude shock when she showed up at a FairPrice store in the Central Business District to start her four-hour shift for online grocery service Honestbee.

The 24-year-old, who has worked for Honestbee for the past three years, had just signed in when a FairPrice employee told her it would be her "last day".

Ms Quah, who earns about $300 a week, later found out through an e-mail from Honestbee that it would be temporarily suspending its partnership with FairPrice from today, and that all freelance shoppers would be offered a "nominal payment of $11/hour" for all slots booked from today till Feb 10.
Freelancers select a time slot and an outlet where they wish to go to pick up items for people who have placed orders on the Honestbee app.

FairPrice said in a statement that the temporary suspension was "due to a review of the existing operations and collaboration process".

An Honestbee spokesman noted that the company was "sensitive to the concerns our bees (personal shoppers) are facing - especially when this has happened close to the Chinese New Year holidays".

The spokesman added: "We want to assure our bees that they are empowered to choose and can continue to shop from other merchants or take on a role at other areas of our businesses in the meantime." 

While this means freelancers like Mr Daniel Lim, 28, can still fulfil orders for shoppers who order groceries from other stores like Tesco, the number of orders will be much lower without FairPrice on board.

"There will now be very little or no demand... There is no guarantee for our income. It is unlikely that we will get any more regular work," he said.

Honestbee, founded in 2015, began as a grocery delivery service and later introduced laundry and food delivery services. It opened its first physical store last October.

The 60,000 sq ft retail space in Pasir Panjang stocks 20,000 products, including fresh produce, seafood and meat, and features a fully automated check-out system where customers pay using a smartphone app and robots pack their groceries into bags.

Associate Professor Sharon Ng from Nanyang Technological University's division of marketing and international business noted that Honestbee was incorporating technology in many of its processes and services, and the suspension with FairPrice could be due to this.

She noted, however, that the way it was executed could have been better "to take into account the impact on the personal shoppers".

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