India coronavirus lockdown | Delivery issues add to woes for homebound

Firms worried over safety of agents.

Many e-commerce firms were forced to suspend deliveries to their customers in major cities across the country on Wednesday with local authorities unable to ensure the safety of delivery persons on the first day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Angry customers vented their anger on social media even as police services scrambled to put in place a system where delivery persons for online vendors were able to go about their jobs unmolested.

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“The key challenge in the field is that sometimes our delivery partners are getting stopped by the police, and some of them have even got beaten up by the police for no fault of theirs,” online grocer BigBasket said in a statement.

“It will help to have better coordination between the Centre and State, and between the State and local police, to ensure that our delivery vans and bikes don’t get stopped by the police,” the firm added.

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Late on Wednesday, the e-commerce firm put out a statement that they were now operational in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Coimbatore, Indore, Mumbai, Mysuru, Noida, Surat and Vadodara. However, services remained suspended in Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Gurugram, Ludhiana, Pune, Vizag, Hyderabad and Vijayawada.

Earlier, e-commerce major Flipkart announced that it had suspended its services, while rival Amazon India halted orders for non-essential products. Gurugram-headquartered Snapdeal also said it was working towards completing delivery of essential goods.

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“We are an essential service and our delivery persons must be allowed to perform their duty,” Shan Kadavil, CEO & Co-founder, FreshtoHome, said in a statement. “The directive from the top is clear but the implementation on the ground level is different.”

“What China followed to control coronavirus, we must do the same. Home delivery is the only option to prevent the spread. We are forced to stop delivery in almost all parts of India including Pune and Mumbai, other than Bengaluru, because our delivery boys are beaten up by police or they are not allowed to move… hopefully in a day or two, delivery across the country should resume.”

Local hurdles

In Bengaluru, a customer who had ordered groceries and fish online, said that she had been informed by FreshtoHome that they had been unable to deliver despite their best efforts on account of “local authority hurdles”.

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Confusion prevailed in Bengaluru as most supermarkets remained closed, while those that were open ran out of stocks. The restrictions on the movement of vehicles disrupted the wholesale-retail and farmer-trader supply chains in the city, creating an artificial scarcity, leading to a spurt in prices. A kilogram of tomatoes that were available for ₹25-₹30 a day earlier cost as much ₹80 a kilo on Wednesday.

Working overtime

While major online delivery platforms have been hit hard by bottlenecks in stock procurement, retail stores in Kerala were working overtime to keep the food and grocery delivery chain active despite a surge in online orders.

“We receive an average 300 to 400 orders through online after the doorstep delivery was launched,” said N. B. Swaraj, media co-ordinator of the Lulu Group in Kochi. “There has been an increase in demand after the nationwide lockdown was announced,” he added.

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On the availability of stocks, Mr. Swaraj said there was a dip in supply of vegetables following the restrictions imposed at the inter-State borders. “However, we have enough stocks of rice and other essential items,” he added.

Lockdown issues

In Hyderabad, thousands of customers of online supermarkets in the city faced massive problems with grocery deliveries either getting cancelled or disabled on account of the lockdown.

Several customers of BigBasket and Grofers took to social media to bring the issue to the attention of the authorities. Many shared screenshots, which purportedly showed that e-stores were facing problems in delivering the groceries due to “restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement of goods in spite of clear guidelines provided by central authorities to enable essential services”.

(With inputs from Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kochi and Hyderabad bureaus)

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