Key to a great online shopping experience is the final delivery of that box home — on time, always, intact — come rain, hailstorm, blistering summers or the cold wave currently sweeping across most of north India. The experience that starts on a shopping app ends with a delivery agent knocking on the door. Unlike brickand-mortar retail, where buyers get to see and feel the product before buying, online shoppers wait impatiently for the delivery boy to arrive so the package can be opened.
“Behind all the tech wizardry, it is the courier boy who is key to ecommerce running smoothly,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a consulting firm specialising in retail. “Millions of dollars have been poured into gaining market share and now there is a race to improve services so buyers keep returning to the app and don’t have to worry about late deliveries.”
Keeping the $30 billion ecommerce engine running smoothly are lakhs of delivery agents zipping around on two-wheelers in the metros as well as smaller cities such as Nagpur, Coimbatore, Vizag and Mathura, with boxes and food carts.
The delivery boom has created a massive new sector of employment that has pulled in a diverse demographic of workers from various sectors. For some, typically those younger than 35 and with limited formal education, it is often a riskier but more lucrative pursuit compared with say an office job. This was the experience of Sundarraj B (see “Delivery with a Dream”). For many above 35, it can be something of a lifeline as they find malls and become more reluctant to hire them, as Manjoosha Mishra Batch found out (see Courier was the Best Option”).
Roshni Patel, a Nagpur-based delivery associate with two years of experience, day starts at 7:30 am at the warehouse of one of the largest e-commerce companies in India. “I deliver on an average 50 packets. In about five hours, I am done for the day. I make around `15,000 to 17,000 a month and am happy,” says Her husband also delivers couriers, Amazon in Nagpur.
If not ecommerce, most of them might have ended up doing odd jobs and many may not have been able to move and live in a big city. With limited employable skills, many of them would not have earned nearly as much as what the delivery boom has afforded them. It is not just the delivery agents. Our increasing propensity to turn to our smartphone for all our needs means a range of service providers such as plumbers, electricians and beauticians are also able to enhance their earnings, upskill and achieve greater stability through apps.
Train & Earn
“Our professionals earn between `30,000 and `35,000 a month. In exceptional cases, it can be `1 lakh as well,” says Varun Khaitan, cofounder of UrbanClap.
In 2018, UrbanClap had around 12,000 professionals, which scaled to 30,000 in 2019 and this year, it expects to have 75,000. Half of them do home repair jobs (plumbing, electricals, etc) and the rest offer beauty and wellness services. The latter category mostly comprises of women.
At food delivery provider Zomato, which has operations across 550 cities in India, an army of almost 2.5 lakh are engaged in delivering orders. They average 1.5 orders an hour and do about 15 orders in 10 hours. The delivery partners mostly come from villages adjoining cities where they work. They must have a driving licence and scooter or bike. The delivery men are put through a two-part training — in-app and in-person. The former helps them understand how to take delivery orders and complete them, while the latter teaches them road safety, technical and financial know-how, soft skills and basic etiquette.
Considering that work is focused around standard breakfast, lunch and dinner hours and increases on weekends, Zomato has a lot of part-timers who are either studying or engaged in secondary or primary professions elsewhere. They log-on to the platform only for certain hours a day. Urban Clap also mostly has independent contractors. The startup keeps a commission of 20% out of the fee.
“They are typically able to earn 2X once they join the platform. It has been transformational in their life,” Khaitan says.
UrbanClap takes semi-skilled professionals and soon will start onboarding unskilled staff and train them for the tasks. “The challenge is in getting trained manpower. We expect to have 75,000 professionals on the platform this year,” he adds. “The challenge is to have the right checks and balances and achieve the perfect customer experience,” says Mohit Sardana, COO of Zomato’s food delivery unit.
Working for companies such as these also entails a gradual shift from blue-collar environments to white-collar perks. Companies are offering provident fund contributions and accident covers, as well as providing loans for delivery staff to acquire two-wheelers.
At Zomato and UrbanClap, partners and delivery staff are covered against accidents by Acko, an insurance startup.
“There is a lot of pressure on logistics providers — to ensure timely and voluminous delivery while ensuring rider safety. It is contingent upon companies to ensure metrics are up (on-time delivery, intact packets, no thefts, etc),” says Dutta of Third Eyesight. Hey Deedee, a courier company
that exclusively employs women, has 600 staffers in 10 cities. It aims to hire 10,000 more and add at least two new cities a month. Employees (in Mumbai) earn a base salary of `8,700 and an additional `18 per packet delivered. Revathi Roy, founder, Hey Deedee, says: “We run a skilling centre at the backend. We make the associate go through a training course on martial arts and customer interface. How to behave, how to not drink anything while at a customer’s place and to maintain distance.”
The on-road staff is tracked via GPS and Hey Deedee pays for petrol and even offers insurance, PF contributions and loans to buy scooters. “It is not a cakewalk. Sitting and doing data entry is far easier. Just the other day, one of our staffers met with an accident while crossing the road to deliver a packet,” says Roy.
Success of ecommerce depends on them. Risks are high, so are the rewards — both for the delivery agents and the ecommerce companies trying hard to ensure customers keep coming back for more.
‘Courier was the Best Option’
Manjoosha Mishra Batch was just 27 when she lost her husband, who used to run a small business and left no savings behind. That was the first time Batch, who has passed Class XII, stepped out of her home in Mumbai to look for work and support her two children. A string of odd jobs followed, including cleaning and wrapping packets and boxes at the super market or working as a typist. “I used to work 14 hours a day for around `8,000 a month,” recalls Batch, now 42.
She thought the expanding retail business, with new malls opening frequently, will open up opportunities. The reality was different. “I was overage and was rejected everywhere. They hire only those below 35,” says Batch, who had relocated from Sagar in Madhya Pradesh to Mumbai after her wedding.
That is when she came to know about Hey Deedee, an e-commerce delivery startup, which hires only women and whose clients include the two top e-commerce companies in India. “They taught me how to drive a scooter and helped me with a loan to buy an Activa,” says Batch. Over two months of training, she learnt how to use delivery apps, read maps, how to interact with customers and the dos and don’ts (like to avoid entering any house or to refuse any drink offered other than water, and that also only if she has asked for it).
Her day now starts at 8:00 am at the warehouse, collecting on an average 30 couriers, each weighing between 1 and 1.5 kg. On holidays, she delivers 60-80 couriers. The more she delivers, the more she gets paid, at `18 per courier. There are problems like customers not being available, or not answering the phone to confirm whether they are at the delivery address. “There is no saving as the `14,000 I make covers our living expenses including the children’s education. But it is better than slogging 14 hours a day. Now I start my day at 8:00 am and end at 4:30 pm,” says Batch.
Delivery with a Dream
Sundarraj B loves rains. And much like the extra toppings on the pizzas, he also loves the extra money he gets when targets are met or exceeded. Roy works for Zomato as a delivery partner. A rainy day means `15 extra per delivery. On festivals, it is `200 extra per day and for exceeding 10 orders a day, it is `400 extra. If he can manage 24 deliveries per day, it is `800 extra over the `720 he gets (at `30 per delivery), making it a cool `1,520 for the day.
Bengaluru-based Sundarraj, 35, used to work with delivery startup Runnr, which was acquired by Zomato in 2017. “It’s a difficult job as targets are stiff and you start making good money only when you exceed targets,” says Sundarraj, who originally hails from a village close to Mysuru. He moved to Bengaluru in search of a job and started working at a hearing aid clinic as a marketing executive. The clinic paid him `12,000 a month. The clinic folded up and once again Sundarraj was looking for a job.
“Office job with my kind of skills would not pay more than `15,000 without any room for extra money. That’s when I looked at delivery jobs, where there was opportunity to earn extra if you worked longer,” says Sundarraj, who stays with his daughter and wife in Bengaluru. Now he earns `32,000-40,000 a month. Sundarraj delivers in a 5 km radius around Kormangala and often frets when he has to deliver food on the 7th or 10th floor. “Some people come down or midway to collect their orders, but many don’t. That elongates delivery time.”
Late night deliveries are also good for the `30 extra for such orders. “I am saving to open a restaurant, actually an online kitchen, where I’ll employ chefs and delivery boys. The market is really growing fast,” adds Sundarraj.