Online delivery cos look to resume operations with ‘curfew passes’ after massive disruption, Retail News, ET Retail
The issue came even after the central government issued a notification on Friday saying that e-commerce companies delivering food and medicines are essential services, but local authorities in several states did not implement these rules with pictures and videos of delivery personnel being beaten up appearing on social media over the last few days.
Over the course of Wednesday, police authorities in Delhi, Gurugram, Pune, and Bengaluru issued notifications and called for meetings with e-commerce executives to resolve issues. Some cities are expected to issue “curfew passes”, which executives in these companies said may take a few days, indicating that delays are likely to continue this week before services normalise.
“It will take a couple of days before things get back to normal but we should start seeing a little bit more activity by tomorrow,” said Albinder Dhindsa, CEO of Grofers, which had to halt deliveries on Wednesday. The company had seen its warehouses in Faridabad, which serves Delhi as well, close down on Tuesday but was opened on Wednesday. “Expectation is that for the week we should be operating at close to 70% capacity.”
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown on Tuesday and consumers rushed to stock up on essential products across the country, soon after which grocery platforms like Bigbasket and Grofers saw their websites crash and they stopped taking fresh orders. While Bigbasket was not taking fresh orders on Wednesday, Gofers started taking new orders in Delhi but showing the next delivery slot of April 6. It also started taking orders in Bengaluru later but with delivery slots starting April 10. These companies, already trying to cater to 100-300% increase in the number of orders since the weekend of March 14-15, are now facing an increased backlog of orders as delivery operations since Sunday when ‘Janta Curfew’ was announced have been in a tizzy.
“We are delivering backlog but can’t take new orders. All slots closed for the next 7 days,” said Hari Menon, CEO of Bigbasket, which was getting 3 lakh orders a day till the weekend. TOI reported on Wednesday that Grofers has had to reschedule orders to over 2.6 lakh households and its six warehouses have been shut down, Bigbasket saw about 45,000 orders getting canceled on Monday which jumped to about 65,000-70,000 orders on Tuesday and continued on Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning Flipkart and Amazon India, who earlier in the week had said they will stop delivering non-essentials and instead focus on categories like grocery and baby food, were also not taking fresh orders as they had seen warehouses shut down across the country. Flipkart resumed its services for grocery and other essentials late on Wednesday across five major metros. “We have been assured of the safe and smooth passage of our supply chain and delivery executives by local law enforcement authorities,” said Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group. For Amazon, two of its key grocery services–Pantry and AmazonFresh were still not available for users on Wednesday evening.
Online food delivery companies like Swiggy and Zomato are also operating only with a fraction of their fleets, as over 90-95% of the restaurants remain closed and cloud kitchens have also not been able to operate because of lack of workers and supply of goods. While food delivery in cities like Chennai was not available, these platforms are also “throttling” services in various localities depending on the availability of restaurants and avoid creating crowds of delivery executives that could attract police action, said an executive briefed on the matter.“There has been a short-term impact in terms of softening in volumes which can be attributed to the shortage of supply due to temporary closure of many high-volume restaurants located in malls and disruptions on ground across certain states,” said a Swiggy spokesperson while adding that they are looking to resolve issues with authorities.
Besides bigger companies, smaller niche players have also been hit. Meat delivery companies like Freshtohome and Licious are also facing issues with authorities, they informed consumers. Milkbasket, which delivers essentials every morning, said it had to dump 15,000 liters of milk and 10,000 kgs of fruits and vegetables on Monday when over 50 gated communities did not let its personnel enter without any notice.
Another worry for these companies is that the action of police personnel across states has already increased anxiety among the delivery personnel, as many of them are now afraid to show up because of the police action. “Key issue is getting employees to FCs (fulfillment centers, or warehouses) – part of it is their families are not letting them go and they are afraid. Other part is those who ventured out were sent back. ID cards are not being respected. We are working with authorities to get them passes and making transportation arrangements to the FCs,” said Prashant Tandon, CEO of medicine delivery platform 1MG, which has backlog of orders of two days.
Online medicine delivery platform Medlife was still taking new orders amid the issues on the ground. “Deliveries are down by 60% in the last two days but orders are up 300%. We are hoping that by tomorrow, we can get back up to normal,” said Ananth Narayanan, co-founder and CEO, Medlife.