FOOD DELIVERY AND GROCERY SERVICES: THE UNSUNG HEROES IN COVID-19 TIMES
“With the five boroughs’ 8 million people being urged to stay home and its restaurants ordered closed, save for takeout and delivery, the city’s delivery workers — like me — are essentially being asked to become a kind of first responder,” writes Wilfred Chan for NBC News. He isn’t alone in that opinion. The world is in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and many firmly believe that the food delivery workers are among the ones on the frontline with the first responders. Perhaps who were once the unsung heroes of the food industry, along with grocery service providers, they have now millions of people hymning in their appreciation.
Back home in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown on March 25. The government did assure that essential commodities will be made available throughout these three weeks and the supply chain for foods, medicines and medical equipment will see no hindrance.
THE SURGE IN DEMAND
After the announcement, in the following days, in the urban and suburban areas of the country, the demand for online deliveries stood high. Platforms like Grofers, BigBasket, Dunzo and Amazon India remained vanguard, making more deliveries amid lockdown. They sure did face the logistic and authorization issues, the curve eventually smoothened and consistency soon followed. “We have seen high demand on the platform, and working towards making deliveries at the earliest in collaboration with our sellers,” said Flipkart in an email statement.
Unsurprisingly though, even for these online retailers, while the government has allowed them to make deliveries, it isn’t “business as usual”. Foremost, the deliveries are made only of the essential goods. Second, the number of foot soldiers aka the delivery agents on the ground are less. Third, a limited number of stores are open in the market – and that for a limited period of time every day. Fourth, the demand for commodities has far exceeded the supply.
Collectively, however, online deliveries in India saw a massive surge in the past couple of weeks. According to Unicommerce, an e-commerce software support company, in just two weeks there’s a 70-80 percent increase in the number of online orders. “The previous two weeks saw a massive 70-80 percent increase in the number of orders, with order size increasing substantially by 15-20 percent. FMCG and staples are some of the most popular products ordered online,” said Unicommerce in a statement.
Market pundits believe that this trend could inevitably go higher in the coming weeks if the COVID-19 spread isn’t adequately stopped and the government has to eventually settle for the China-like model of making home delivery of the essential items the only option. Home delivery was a pivotal element in helping China through its coronavirus crisis. India may embrace a similar model if the pandemic continues to grow.
THE PROBLEMS FACED BY THE DELIVERY EXECUTIVES
Even with a system in place, online stores in consent, and a nod by the government, there are still many challenges faced by the deliverymen. At least in the early days of the lockdown, they were stopped by the policemen and even harassed and beaten.
“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,” said BigBasket in a statement. Grofers, too, revealed a similar picture with its delivery staff getting arrested and over 60,000 deliveries being affected.
Fortunately, not many such cases have been reported since the early mishaps. But that alone doesn’t limit the problems of the delivery executives. An increase in the demand and lack of adequate manpower has put a hefty burden on these professionals who already had their plates full. For instance, to meet the higher demands, Grofers announced that it’s going to offer 24/7 delivery. Currently, this is in phase 1, implemented only in Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, and Kolkata. “We will scale up after looking at the response,” said Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder and CEO of Grofers.
Then there’s another problem: Health. These delivery executives likely have many touchpoints in fulfilling orders end-to-end. This exposes them to many health scares, including even COVID-19.
THE SIGNS OF “BETTER”
Admittedly, as we settle into this lockdown and prepare for a long battle ahead against coronavirus, things are getting better in this department. The supply is decently mapping the demand for essential goods. With communication trickling down from the top to local authorities much clearly, there are fewer restrictions that the delivery executives have to face. Swiggy and Zomato, too, are expected to make grocery deliveries soon – bringing more foot soldiers to the ground, easing off the stress for those who are already here. The companies are also taking adequate measures to ensure higher safety and, assumingly, convenience for their delivery staff. Similarly, the store owners too have adopted a new system; most of them are decently letting the supply chain on the wheels and enough products in the marketing.
So, the one whose stories were far from media talk point unless it’s something sensational – the food and grocery delivery service providers are now the hero in this fight against the pandemic. They are combating the corona scare and unaccommodating police authorities. They are helping their companies stay alive during such economically challenging times. They are helping consumers stay comforted, full and healthy while locked inside their houses. The store owners are promoting social distancing and precautionary measures. Once the unsung heroes, more people are now singing their praises – albeit the number of people is still relatively lower and the amount of recognition is far from what they deserve.
HOW CAN WE HELP?
In different capacities, there’s a lot we can do for the food delivery and grocery services providers. For once, we can tip them better. Inherently, Indians are bad tippers. This might be a perfect time to fix that. It’s no secret that the deliverymen and storeowners do not earn adequately for the long stretches of hours they work. Working in the climate that of today, they deserve more than ever. Tipping them better is a great start in that direction. We can be a bit more generous and show them our appreciation through proper tips.
Following, there are measures we can take to ensure their safety. Wearing masks when communicating with them and collecting the orders is another small step that makes a big difference.
Owing to the higher demands, these professionals are fulfilling tons of orders every day. Unforeseen situations can come up at any time. Raising flags for small delays is an inconsiderate habit even on the regular days let alone the unprecedented time we live in now. So, have patience and excuse the delays. Furthermore, if there’s any mistake in the order, it could amicably resolve instead of squabbled over.
In addition, one can also contribute to NGOs and not-for-profit organizations that work closely with people in the frontline. There’s a dire need for personal protective equipment by people who are fighting coronavirus from the front on different levels. They need more masks, gloves, and overalls. Making even a small donation from each of us can add to make a significant impact.
During such difficult times, while we stay locked in our homes – hopefully safe – we must take the initiative to appreciate those who are working to keep us safe. Doctors and medical staff are, of course, at the top of that list. Food delivery and grocery services providers aren’t too far behind though.