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Demand surges at e-grocers across cities amid Covid-19 third wave, local curbs

The escalating delivery timelines is reminiscent of the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, when online grocers were faced with an overnight surge in demand caused by people stocking up on essentials.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: January 13, 2022 10:15:41 am
A Swiggy delivery executive in Mumbai. (Express Photo/File)

Grocery orders on e-commerce platforms, such as Tata-owned e-grocer Bigbasket, across multiple addresses in Delhi’s residential suburbs have started to show two-day delivery timelines, compared to what took under six to eight hours just a fortnight ago.

The delivery timeline is similar at addresses in Kolkata and Ahmedabad, while in Mumbai and Bengaluru, the timeline for order deliveries was up to one day. Bigbasket isn’t the only one facing issues.

The escalating delivery timelines is reminiscent of the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, when online grocers were faced with an overnight surge in demand caused by people stocking up on essentials such as soaps, staples and even easy-to-consume items such as noodles and biscuits.

Online grocers are seeing this trend across the board. Seshu Kumar Tirumala, national head—buying and merchandising, Bigbasket, said the grocer is seeing a 25-100 per cent growth across all geographies. “Growth is across the country. Cities which have stricter lockdowns like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad are seeing higher growth.”

Swiggy, for instance, which operates e-grocery delivery services under the Instamart banner, said it has recorded “a surge to the tune of 25-30 per cent in orders, with weekends seeing even higher demand” in the past few weeks. And this surge has come from across the country. “We have seen a surge in most top cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, and Hyderabad. Notably, even non-metros like Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and Lucknow have seen an increase in demand in the last few weeks,” a Swiggy spokesperson said.

Similarly, 10-minute grocery delivery app Zepto saw significant growth across categories. Aadit Palicha, Zepto CEO and co-founder, told The Indian Express, “We have seen significant sales growth in the last one week. We grew by 36 per cent week over week. Consumers have been doing some pantry loading of categories like cooking essentials and packaged food …We have seen explosion of small brands in the food categories in times of pandemic. However, consumers have reaffirmed their trust in the top brands in the FMCG non-food space.”

This growth has been in line with the announcements of mini-lockdowns and curfews across the country by various state authorities. Over the last weekend (January 8-9), Delhi underwent a weekend curfew, and earlier this week, ordered closure of all private offices with certain exemptions. Tamil Nadu has announced Sunday lockdowns. West Bengal, meanwhile, has declared “pocket lockdowns” in districts with higher incidence of Covid-19 cases.

The surge at the downstream end of the grocery pyramid was reflected at the top end too, as the rise in demand was felt by FMCG manufacturers, who say they have added capacity to meet requirements, particularly at a time when they are facing inflationary pressures for raw materials.

However, for online grocers, though, availability of labour is seemingly getting to be a bigger concern than availability of supplies. Palicha said: “We are taking measures to ramp up our delivery fleets aggressively due to the surge in demand we’re seeing. We’re forecasting anywhere between a 50-100 per cent surge in demand over the next month or two, depending on the severity of the situation.

Also, we’re in a position right now where we’ve extensively started hiring delivery partners and hiring other folks on the ground to help us withstand and capture that scale.”

Swiggy said it has advised all sellers at dark stores to take weekly RT-PCR tests among staff. Bigbasket said it is working on raising capacities to “ensure timely deliveries”.

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