Although e-commerce is counted as an essential service by the government in the current lockdown, online retailers complained that their delivery personnel faced several hurdles, including restrictions on their movement and police brutality, forcing them to suspend services.
Hours after temporarily suspending orders, Walmart-owned Flipkart said on Wednesday afternoon that it will resume delivery of grocery and essential services later in the day.
“We have been assured of the safe and smooth passage of our supply chain and delivery executives by local law enforcement authorities and are resuming our grocery and essentials services later today," Kalyan Krishnamurthy, chief executive of Flipkart Group, said in a statement.
Flipkart said it is “grateful for the clarification provided by the government and local state authorities on the functioning of e-commerce as an ‘essential service’ during the lockdown, and of them taking cognizance of the role we can play to ensure that people’s needs are met during this time."
Online grocery startup Grofers shuttered its warehouses and stopped taking fresh orders on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Grofers said that local authorities have assured e-commerce companies that they can now fulfill orders.
“Over the last few days, we faced a few hiccups in our operations which led to a backlog of around 4 lakh orders. However, the local authorities are helping us in resuming operations. We are closely working with them and with their support, we will soon start accepting orders on our platform," Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder and chief executive.
The company is expected to resume operations soon.
As state governments imposed curfews, online grocery platforms struggled to supply essential commodities to their customers with many complaining of their delivery agents being assaulted by the police and their delivery vans damaged. This, when the state governments had assured that supply chain of essential commodities will not suffer.
Medicine delivery firms such as 1MG, NetMeds and Medlife said that they were forced to cancel and delay orders that were already paid for, and have temporarily suspended operations after their riders were assaulted by the police.
Late last week, ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution issued directions to state governments to ensure that e-commerce platforms are allowed to supply essential items without hassle. The ministry had asked state governments and local administrations to exempt e-commerce operations, their vendors, and third-party delivery partners from any prohibitory orders to ensure that consumers can access essential goods and services in case of strict lockdowns.
DailyNinja, an online milk delivery platform, said on Tuesday that several of its delivery workers were either assaulted or stopped from doing deliveries.
“Our deliveries were impacted in Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai not only due to the on-ground confusion but also because many delivery personnel decided to stay back home for their safety," Sagar Yarnalkar, chief executive of DailyNinja, said in a phone interview.
Milkbasket, another online grocery delivery platform said its staff, vendors and vehicles were being stopped by local police, disrupting operations.
“We are being told to shut down our distribution centres," the company said in a statement. DailyNinja and Milkbasket, both could not meet all their orders.
Challenges for online delivery platforms are higher as many housing societies too have imposed restrictions on the entry of delivery agents.
For Kuldeep Pandit, founder and CEO of Home Jiny, an online provider of everything from milk to domestic needs continuity of business has become a challenge.
“In the last one week, we have seen a 200-400% surge in demand but with every passing day, restrictions are becoming tougher. Only time will tell how long we can continue to deliver." A six-month-old company, Home Jiny delivers in societies in Faridabad and Gurgaon, servicing around 15000 households.
Puneet Kumar, founder and CEO of Supr Daily said on Tuesday, “Our staff has found it incredibly difficult to reach warehouse and delivery locations due to movement restrictions within cities. We are now operating at less than 10% capacity, due to which we, unfortunately, had to delist most grocery products from our app."
Biman Mukherji and Salman SH contributed to this story