E-commerce majors in the country sold goods worth over $3 billion in the week-long festive sales on their platform this year. This is about 30 per cent higher than the festive sales in 2018 and, notably, a majority of this growth across platforms has been driven by tier-2 and tier-3 towns. While small products such as mobile phones and fashion goods dominated the orders from smaller towns, online retailers have also ramped up their logistics to deliver larger items like furniture and white goods to difficult-to-reach terrains.
For companies like Flipkart and Amazon, the prime focus of expanding their delivery into remote regions has been leveraging aspects such as localised human resource, technology and development of alternative delivery models. On the one hand, where Flipkart has partnered with kirana stores and freelance delivery agents to reach low density and remote locations, Amazon, on the other, has depended on local knowledge of delivery associates to navigate through weather and terrain challenges to ensure timely deliveries.
Walmart-owned Flipkart recently expanded delivery of large items such as furniture, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, etc to Siliguri in West Bengal and its surrounding areas. The last mile delivery hub stationed in Siliguri serves the hill-top areas of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik, which are at least a 90-minute drive from the hub. “We normally deliver products like washing machines, television and furniture items like sofa. There’s a problem of frequent rainshowers in these areas, so packaging the electronic goods for delivery is one of the priorities,” said 26-year old Tinku Burman, one of Flipkart’s delivery executives posted at the Siliguri large goods hub.
The company has deployed a tech-enabled solution called the ‘Address and Location Intelligence’ navigation, which helps the delivery personnel get a customer location with pinpoint precision, even if the addresses are not completely clear.
Flipkart has pointed out that in smaller cities and towns with non-standard addresses, a solution like this reduces the number of calls a delivery person has to make to the customer and reduce delivery re-attempts.
The company said that it deploys the technology at each and every stage of the supply chain. From the point when an order is placed by a consumer, the system dynamically maps the entire route from the location of the product to its journey down the logistical food-chain — through fulfillment centres, mother hubs and various distribution hubs.
“It also analyses artificial topography ranging from chaotic streets to narrow bylanes … dug-up roads and addresses parched upon hill tops, helping to predetermine the route and offer constructs such as promised date and time of delivery, etc,” Flipkart said.
Pintu Malik, another Flipkart delivery executive in Siliguri, explained that in the hilly regions, there were also issues of parking and in various cases, the personnel parked their delivery vehicles and carried the parcel to the last mile. “It generally takes at least 60-90 minutes to deliver one package in these areas,” Malik said.
For the delivery routes that are not there on a map, Amazon has relied on the local knowledge of the delivery people who grew up in the area to find customers’ homes. Responding to a set of queries sent by The Indian Express, an Amazon India spokesperson said: “In 2017, Amazon.in set up a delivery station with a Service Partner in Leh to make deliveries throughout the rugged mountain town — making it the company’s highest delivery route. This has enabled the local population to easily access a wide range of products and increase their purchasing convenience. Owing to their local knowledge of the area, the delivery associates skilfully navigate through weather and terrain challenges to ensure timely deliveries in the region.”
In a blog highlighting its efforts in India for deliveries to remote locations, the company said: “The routes not only involve high mountain passes and occasional rock slides, but rough, primitive roads and sporadic traffic jams caused by free-roaming cattle and donkeys”.
As ‘Bharat’ continues to drive growth for online commerce, investment by these companies in technology and delivery networks is only expected to grow.
During its Big Billion Days sale, Flipkart saw 70 per cent increase from tier-2+ towns for electronics category.
For Amazon, 91 per cent of new customers came from tier-2, tier-3 and below geographies.
Even for Snapdeal, which deploys third-party delivery personnel, cities like Nagpur, Surat, Vijayawada, Chandigarh, Panaji, Jamshedpur, Shimla and Guwahati saw orders surging at least four-fold over the previous year.
“Over 120 cities and towns across the country registered at least 2X volumes compared to last Diwali sales. These include cities like Satara, Anand, Bharuch and Pali (West India), Malerkotla, Roorkee, Jhansi and Haridwar (North India), Hazaribagh, Raniganj and Paradip (East India), Tezpur, Itanagar and Majuli (North-East India) and Khammam, Hassan, Miryalaguda and Bhimavaram (South India),” Snapdeal said.