Online shoppers in the West contemplate a day when drones will deliver their packages. India’s nascent e-commerce market, estimated to boom to $100 billion in revenues by 2020 as per a Morgan Stanley report, is witnessing an exceptional number of innovations in logistics and delivery.
Dabbawallas: In the financial hub of Mumbai, India’s largest online retailer, Flipkart, is collaborating with the famed Dabbawallas. Dabbawallas, literally lunch box carriers, are a century-old network of 5,000 men who crisscross the city on foot, bicycle and local trains to transport about 150,000 piping hot lunches from people’s homes to their workplaces. This low-tech, inexpensive and error-free system (where colored codes painted on the side of the lunch box tells the dabbawalla where the lunch comes from, which train station it must go through and which specific building and street it is headed to) will now deliver e-commerce packages. The dabbawallas will collect the boxes from Flipkart’s distributions centers and service the same neighborhoods from where they collect lunches. All tracking will initially be paper-based.
India Post: The country has the largest postal network in the world with 460,000 employees working in 155,000 post offices, 90% of which are located in rural India. Now the state-owned India Post is collaborating with e-commerce firms like Snapdeal and ShopClues to deliver packages to shoppers in the remotest corners. In many far-flung locations, it is the only last-mile logistics handler available. India Post is targeting about $1 billion in revenues, a ten-fold increase from now, in the next two years. It has begun training its postmen in tasks such as card payments and handling same-day shipments and opened 60 fulfillment centers, or warehouses, last year.
Gas stations: In pilots that Amazon India ran in Delhi and Mumbai with the state-owned oil and gas firm, Bharat Petroleum, online shoppers can collect their packages at pick-up points at their nearest gas station. The collaboration has recently been extended to a further three cities.
Kirana stores: The country’s ubiquitous network of mom & pop neighborhood grocery stores called kirana stores (there are an estimated 12 million of them) is Amazon India’s testing ground for shipment pick-ups. The e-commerce firm has identified a network of strategically-located small stores and trained staff to cater to online shoppers who can pick up packages at their convenience. Kirana stores typically stay open long hours and provide personalized service to people in their vicinity. Ironically, some say the small entrepreneurs who run kirana stores are under threat, as massive online retailers hawk everything from groceries to fresh produce.
Hand carry: To overcome the problem of botched deliveries of premium shipments, e-commerce firms are known to dispatch messengers on flights to hand carry packages to shoppers. Online retailers are also known to fly their packages in the passenger cabin of expensive commercial flights.
Delivering packages within India’s messy cities is a challenge for e-commerce firms as roads are traffic-clogged, streets are not numbered sequentially, addresses are often written without zip codes and landmarks are ever-changing. But innovation is simplifying deliveries and online retailers continue to experiment with radical options to reach their products to customers reliably and quickly.
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