E-commerce firms to resume services, but short on delivery executives

Despite e-commerce companies saying they're resuming their services, many of them still face challenges in delivering even essential products to consumers.

Several ecommerce companies are struggling to get enough of curfew passes, besides being short of delivery personnel.

“Given the strong and unconditional enforcement of lockdown rules by most local authorities, the delivery personnel were fearful for their security and didn’t turn up for work. Many of these personnel are migrants and many have gone back to their hometowns -- it will be a challenge to bring them back,” said Sachin Taparia, founder and chairman of LocalCircles, a leading community and consumer platform which works with various ministries.

In districts across the country, he says, many delivery people still need to get curfew passes. This can take days, due to the manual processes of granting these. Instead, he suggests, a valid ID card and letter from the e-commerce company concerned should be accepted by local authorities.

“Also, in different villages where major warehouses of e-commerce firms are located, the local sarpanchs are not letting e-commerce delivery people either enter or go out. So, less than half of all e-commerce orders have been delivered in the country; the majority of orders are still pending due to non-availability of the resources and workers to deliver these,” said Taparia.

Some of these e-commerce companies actually have all the government approvals needed to deliver but are still stuck. “The situation in e-commerce has nothing to do with the employers now. Because of the announcement of the lockdown, a lot of staff which were coming from outside cities and towns have just packed their bags and decided to leave,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, president, Indian Staffing Federation, apex body of organised staffing companies and representing a little over a million contract workers employed across 100 staffing company members annually.

That includes some of the biggest e-commerce firms. “The Amazons of the world and all these e-commerce entities could have operated by providing essential services but they don't have enough hands to successfully deliver, (though) the demand has increased exponentially,” said Chakraborty.

Core issues

While the central government has asked that certain procedures e followed uniformly for e-commerce services, local authorities are following different rules at state, city and district levels, observes Ankur Pahwa, partner for e-commerce and consumer internet at consultancy EY India. “Also, the staff shortage at warehouses is making the process of packing and delivering of products a problem. And, a lot of delivery people have concerns about their security and have gone back to their home towns. A lot of people are falling out of the employment-serving curve." Adding: "Though e-commerce companies are getting a huge amount of orders and there is a greater amount of adoption of people using digital platforms to buy and consume, there is not enough infrastructure to deliver.”

Officials at various e-commerce firms, who did not wish to be named, say there is an urgent need for governments and local public service agencies -- including the police -- to win the confidence of the more than a million delivery executives in the e-commerce sector and assure them safety. “Delivery people are not available. The attendance is very poor,” said one executive.

Putting it all back

“To achieve the objective of moving essential supplies across the country, from our sellers and vendors to customers, our teams are exploring all possible collaboration ideas, including the railways (also the postal department), among other innovative ideas.  All these ideas, supported by government effort, will help us significantly ramp up our capacity to deliver essentials very soon,” said Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer at Flipkart. “We have been hiring and are offering incentives to supply chain and delivery executives engaged in grocery and essentials to enhance the capacity to deliver to customers efficiently.”

E-commerce major Amazon says it's resuming services gradually. However, if you order an essential item like rice or tea on the platform, the app shows it would be delivered in a month -- at least in Bengaluru, where the company is headquartered.  “We continue to resume services gradually, adding in more cities as we get the necessary clearances and passes from the local authorities. We are first serving existing orders for essential products and accepting new orders for these items only,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

It has resumed services in Bengaluru, Pune, Ludhiana, Lucknow, Mysuru, Noida, Raipur, Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad so far, for essential goods.

E-health start-up Medlife has resumed services in about 20 cities but is figuring how to manage its supply chain. That apart, co-founder and chief executive Ananth Narayanan says their biggest challenge is to get employees to work.  “We need strong messaging now that we are taking all precautions and assure people enough to come back and start serving, for essential services,” he said. The company is seeing around two to three times the normal orders on its platform but is short of staff by about 50 per cent.  

Online grocery store BigBasket, also trying to get back on its feet, has not accepted any orders on the app for a week, even for its BB Star customers. Supr Daily used to deliver essentials based on a subscription model but has now restricted the category to only milk -- it has stopped delivering other products such as vegetables, eggs and bread. Branded meat and poultry delivery start-up Licious is also non-functional for over a week now, with everything out of stock on its app.

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