Covid-19 has been hard on everyone.

The Philippines continues to suffer from the longest and strictest lockdowns. With communities so deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic, many have struggled to support themselves, let alone run a business effectively. At the heart of so many communities in the Philippines, sari-sari stores have found themselves in similar positions as they found themselves navigating through the new normal.

The problem with sari-sari stores is that, on a macro level, there is a trend of community replenishment and buying. This means that while sari-sari stores have brisk sales, thanks to the low bar for entry, competition is also high. This isn’t as easy as it seems.

There are also security and medical concerns within the area. As owners of the community’s hub, these people hear stories about those around them — who’s laid off, who’s sick. They become the local commissary for homes, and they will have people ask them for goods with potentially no cash to pay. This can become a potential risk factor for them, which is why the sense of community has to be strengthened. We want to empower the stores to make more knowledgeable decisions about their business transactions.

Sari-sari stores existed before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and they will continue to exist after the pandemic. These businesses are so central to the communities they serve. People will continue to rely on them, and the stores that can provide the most value will retain customers. Remember, in today’s CPG world, we’ve come to realize that people are not brand loyal. They will purchase whatever they can get a hold of, regardless of where it comes from. So, if a sari-sari store can create that ability to provide true customer service, they will become the winners of this pandemic.

We hope that our grand experiment leads to true change. We want to provide small businesses the ability to grow — access to both truly helpful financial products and to cheaper sources for goods to sell. We need to provide them an opportunity to earn their keep by giving them a helping hand. We believe that all these stores were built for the same reason — these people needed a way to support their families. If we can support them in that goal, then I believe we have created a better world.

That world can be created through technology. The technology available in 2021 is extremely decentralized. Anyone can sell online, and anyone can buy. This technology isn’t centralized to just big companies, so the metrics aren’t just limited to an element of frequency, but also an element of time. It sounds very complicated but in reality, it’s simple as this becomes a new normal. It’s just asking the question, ‘can I get my stuff from waiting for 3 days to 30 minutes?’

Bing Tan, Packworks CEO