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E-commerce deliveries come to a grinding halt

By Peerzada Abrar and Samreen Ahmad
March 25, 2020 11:39 IST
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There is a lot of police action on the ground and even inter-state movement has been stopped, because of which deliveries of essential items via platforms, such as Flipkart, Amazon, Grofers, and Milkbasket, aren't happening.  Food-delivery firms -- Swiggy and Zomato -- are facing similar challenges, according to the sources. 

IMAGE: With online deliveries coming to a halt, people are forced to throng the marketplace for their daily needs. Photograph: Anil Shinde / ANI Photo.

The Indian e-commerce sector has come to a near standstill across the country, hurting the supply of essential commodities, amid lockdowns in several states and cities to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to industry executives. 

They said there is a lot of police action on the ground and even inter-state movement has been stopped, because of which deliveries of essential items via platforms, such as Flipkart, Amazon, Grofers, and Milkbasket, aren't happening.

Food-delivery firms -- Swiggy and Zomato -- are facing similar challenges, according to the sources. 


"There are a lot of ambiguities. The authorities keep coming up with circulars which are contradictory to the previous ones," said an e-commerce industry executive. “It is more a miscommunication issue.” 

E-commerce companies are facing challenges in delivering essential items such as rice, wheat, pulses, baby food, milk and dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. The other important items include hygiene products such as soaps, sanitary pads, sanitisers, and masks. 

As most of the people are working from home, e-commerce industry insiders said that etailers are also finding it a challenge to deliver items like power banks, laptops, routers, headsets, and tables and chairs to their customers, despite a tremendous increase in demand. 

Heeding the challenges, the government of Karnataka on Monday put out an order saying that e-commerce and home delivery come under essential services and shall be excluded from the restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus. 

Maharashtra, too, put out an order saying that e-commerce services providing essential goods, including pharmaceutical and medical equipment, should be excluded from the restrictions. 

According to the sources, other than essentials, for which demand is huge, most e-commerce categories are witnessing at least a 60 per cent drop in sales. 

Many consumers have reported on community platform LocalCircles that deliveries from e-commerce grocery apps like Grofers, BigBasket, Amazon, and Flipkart are not reaching them. 

About 35 per cent consumers could not get most of the essential goods via e-commerce apps because of the lockdown, according to a survey by LocalCircles, which received more than 15,000 responses from consumers. Also, about 17 per cent consumers could not find most essentials in retail stores. 

“The state machinery must sensitise the police leadership so that officials on the ground do not create bottlenecks in the supply of essential goods to wholesale and retail stores, and homes of people,” said LocalCircles. “The last thing we as a country want in this COVID-19 outbreak is long queues outside stores or scuffles for who gets to buy that last sugar packet in the store,” stated LocalCircles, which is going to share its findings with the government. 

Milkbasket, a Gurugram-based daily grocery delivery service, said the company’s staff, vendors, and vehicles are not being allowed to ply on the road by local police, disrupting its operations. 

“Yesterday, we had to cancel thousands of orders. We could only operate at 40 per cent capacity in Gurugram. Even lower in Noida. We might have to cancel all the orders today, impacting over 150,000 families across 4 cities,” the company had stated on Monday. “We are being told to shut down our distribution centres.” 

The company urged the authorities to look into the matter and support the firm in ensuring smooth service. 

Online grocery firm Grofers said according to the directive of the central government, the firm continued to provide essential goods to customers across the country on the day of Janata Curfew. However, because of some confusion over the exemption of the services, many of its delivery riders were stopped and arrested, leading to a delay in the delivery of almost 60,000 orders countrywide. 

“This does not only affect the morale of the delivery staff who are working selflessly to support people, but also causes inconvenience to many customers,” said Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder and CEO of Grofers, which is backed by SoftBank. 

In a few states, including Maharashtra, the company is facing forced shut down of warehouses. “Our teams are working relentlessly to support people and managing deliveries to avoid any kind of panic among consumers and we request authorities to take measures to ensure that the process of essential items delivery remains smooth,” said Dhindsa. 

Saurabh Kumar, another co-founder of Grofers, said on Twitter that despite assurances that grocery is an essential service and Grofers should continue to operate, police and the local authorities keep shutting its warehouses. 

“All the proactive initiatives of (the) government and central authorities (are) going to waste because of overzealous enforcement agencies,” said Kumar. 

E-commerce firms are requesting state governments to resolve various issues. This includes movement of goods for e-commerce by trucks plying state and inter-state. There are letters issued by these companies to truckers, which need to be accepted by the authorities. 

These letters say that the products are for e-commerce service delivery ensuring families are getting what is essential for them to have at home “during isolation so they don't have to leave their homes,” said a source. 

These firms are also requesting for the opening of multi-products warehouses, distribution, and sort centres. Also, the safe movement of personnel for e-commerce activities after showing the letter and government-issued identification documents. 

“We request for a strong coordinating mechanism between the central and state governments to ensure that these guidances are percolated down to the ground level,” said an e-commerce industry executive. 

The companies are also asking to allow customer and IT support operations, and movement between home and office for operations and logistic services. 

All types and milk, milk products, and poultry items were out of stock on BigBasket. Everything was out of stock even on Licious, the branded online meat start-up, with no further information on when these items would be available next. 

Other Bengaluru-based grocery delivery start-ups, such as Supr Daily and Daily Ninja, were also down with most items not available on their online stores. 

“We are fully-stocked but are currently experiencing a shortage of manpower to service the high demand,” said online supermarket store Nature's Basket in a note on its app.

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Peerzada Abrar and Samreen Ahmad in Bengaluru
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