Coronavirus: How food and grocery delivery services are following social distancing

Surbhi Gupta
Coronavirus outbreak, Food delivery services, grocery aggregators, lockdown, contactless deliveries, cashless transactions, pune news, indian express news

Even as online grocers have seen a surge in demand, they had to cancel and reschedule orders due to restrictions. (Getty Image)

In the wake of COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns in all major cities, as people stay put inside their homes, food, groceries and other online orders continue to be delivered at the doorstep. “The challenge in hand is to keep the supplies going as there is a lot of confusion as to what essential services are,” says Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder of Grofers, an online grocery delivery service. “We’re facing threats from the authorities, who are asking our warehouses to be shut, even though we have the order from the Centre calling ours an essential service. This is making about 20,000 deliveries being delayed at a time,” he says, adding that while Grofers made about 70,000 deliveries on Sunday alone, there is a backlog of over 60,000 orders, which had to be rescheduled.

Apart from shutting warehouses, other problems that online food and grocery aggregators are facing is the blocking of trucks carrying supplies at borders, and delivery agents being dissuaded from moving around on the streets. But the sales are increasing, Dhindsa says. “We operate through local stores and have about 7,000 of them signed up with us. Still, the challenge is: will we be able to deliver?” he says. Online grocer Big Basket, which has seen its growth double in the past few days, also had to cancel and reschedule orders due to restrictions, and hasn’t been accepting new orders due to “an unprecedented increase in demand”. Amazon Pantry has made its service “temporarily unavailable”, while Flipkart Supermart has “delayed delivery slots due to an unforeseen increase in demand”.

“I have been trying to order groceries for my mother, who lives in another city, from Big Basket but there are no slots available for the next seven days. I had also ordered medicines for her and the delivery date is being pushed ahead again and again,” says Amita Ghose, a Delhi-based employee of an advocacy group. “The companies are operating with fewer delivery personnel, while online orders have increased,” says Rishav Kumar, who works in the corporate sector. “I had also ordered groceries last week from Flipkart but my delivery date is constantly getting pushed ahead,” he says.

“These are unprecedented times. The government has provided strong guidelines, which we are adhering to. However, coordinating with multiple local authorities is challenging, and we are hoping to iron this out soon,” a spokesperson for restaurant aggregator Zomato said in a statement. In the app, users will now find a new feature Zomato Market, for which the company has tied up with local kirana stores to deliver groceries home. But delivery boys on the field are facing new challenges. Dhindsa says many of their delivery riders were stopped by authorities on Sunday, when the country observed Janta Curfew. While many residential complexes are not allowing them to enter their premises, others have now developed “drop zones” for prepaid orders, he adds.

E-commerce and delivery services have also started following social distancing with a practice that is now known as “contactless delivery”, where users can have their food delivered to a designated area without having to interact with the delivery rider in person. Zomato has made the contactless food delivery available on their app through their ‘delivery instructions’ feature. When the customer chooses the option, the valet will leave a package on a clean surface outside the door, customers can leave a bag, stool or table outside, they will receive a photo of the delivered food and can pick it up at their convenience, shared Zomato Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal on Twitter. Swiggy also has the feature now, along with delivery service Dunzo, which is asking customers to use the in-app partner chat option or by calling the delivery partner directly to avail the service.

Fast food chain Domino’s Pizza has also promised “zero contact delivery” across its 1,325 restaurants on orders made on their app. The delivery person will keep the food in fro0nt of a customer’s doorstep in a carry bag to prevent the risk of infection. So has Chaayos, whose outlets are open for takeaway and online delivery. “About 25 per cent of our outlets have closed because of the lock down and these were mostly in the malls,” says Raghav Verma, co-founder of Chaayos. Apart from various hygiene measures taken at their outlets, including a mandatory 20-second hand wash every hour for all employees, they are also following contactless pickups, where a designated area has been assigned for delivery partners to collect the orders. Mcdonald’s is also “offering limited services through delivery and take away, wherever possible”. Meanwhile Karan Tanna, founder of Ghost Kitchens, a cloud kitchen company, says that they have “shut all their places to ensure the safety of all their employees and avoid human interaction”.

E-commerce websites are also encouraging customers to avoid the exchange of cash and turn to digital payments. “Customers are requested to pay through digital payment gateways. They also have the option of requesting the delivery partner to leave their packages at the security booth of their residential complexes,” says Amitesh Jha, Senior Vice President- eKart & Marketplace, Flipkart. But the moment Grofers announced that they will only allow online payments, their customer care service was bombarded with calls asking for cash-on-delivery to be back. “Cash is a reality in India and people are hesitant to make online payments, so we are thinking of releasing a short-term credit feature,” says Dhindsa.