The flip side of convenience

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)
(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

I had earlier written about how hyperlocal grocery delivery folks were affecting the ‘other folks’ who were actually shopping in the super markets. Some of these ‘delivery’ experts were super aggressive in picking up items before us and were trying to beat the lines etc. So while folks who found it convenient to order through them, there were some inconvenience to the others who actually did shop physically.

While one might think that this is an isolated industry and incident, two similar incidents happened to me recently involving two separate companies/industries.

Food delivery: Last week, I stopped by Taco Bell (Sony world, Koramangala, if you must know), to pick up something on the go. I had ordered from the cashiers. There was hardly any crowd. But I waited for a good 15 minutes, because there were three swiggy orders queued up asynchronously in front of me. Yesterday we went to Anand Sweets (Purani Dilli, Koramangala 5th block, again, if you must know :)). We went to eat in. We had ordered just chaat. The food pick up here is by token. I was token number 52, and the running number was 49. Usually, this would have been about 5 mins, but again, it took me a good 20 minutes. Why? Two swiggy ordes again. And again, because it was delivery, it took time to pack. And to ‘beat’ the minimum order for free delivery threshold, folks typically order more. Boom. Double Whammy.

Radio cabs: Today evening, a radio cab almost ran into me. Why? He was busy trying to talk to a customer on the phone trying to understand where to pick him up, look up the same on his map on the phone app, and steer the dang car. Quite naturally, he was doing all three actions sub-optimally.

So now what? Now I am not being the luddite cribbing against technology advances. All I am saying is, are these companies thinking enough about this problem. Should the companies care only about their direct customer satisfaction? Or should they also look at their impact on society, as a bigger picture.

I am sure there are solutions. For the radio cabs problem, this is a solved problem in the US. The geo- problem is solved beautifully there. You call, and the uber is in front of you. No hailing. No telling landmarks. Nothing. I am sure our guys can improve this too.

As for the food delivery problem, one thing that I noticed was that, the guys started preparing the food only after the guy came to the restaurant, while they actually had gotten the order much earlier. Could they do some form of predictive start? I, as a consumer, know where the delivery guy is and how close he is to reaching the restaurant. Can’t swiggy share this out to the restaurant also?

What does everyone think?

On Flipkart and Dabbawalas

I read an article today that Flipkart is beginning to work with the famous Dabbawalas of Mumbai for last mile delivery. The efficiency of these tiffin box carriers of Mumbai has been lauded so much that there is even an Harvard Business Review Case Study on them. Much has been written about these men who wear the white cotton kurtas and ensure hot food from homes reach office goers at the perfect time. In other words, it is a classic example of a supply chain model which has been perfected over the years.

So, now on to todays news of Flipkart and their tie-up with the dabbawalas. Apparently at this moment in time, this is in pilot, and a group of dabbawalas are being trained for delivery. Initially they would only be handling orders that are already paid for (would not be handling COD).

This is a pretty innovative thing that Flipkart is getting into. I see several areas where both Flipkart and the dabbawalas can mutually benefit from such a tie-up.

Additional income for the dabbawalas: This is probably the one that bubbles up first. The dabbawalas current schedule mostly works in 2 spikes. One spike to delivery the dabbas from home to offices, and the other to collect the dabbas back from the offices and deliver it back to home. The other times are pretty much open to them to earn additional income.

Additional delivery people for Flipkart: They can choose to be the ‘uber’ of delivery-men. Let me elaborate here. When dabbawalas have their spike time done, and they are free, they can intimate to flipkart, that they are free and for how long. If the logistics and supply chain software is able to allot him a ‘ride’ or a ‘job’ that can be executed within that time, and he is comfortable with it, he can pick it up, and deliver it. This creates an additional pool of delivery people for flipkart. (Another pilot is happening in Bangalore with Flipkart trying a crowd-sourced delivery model). 

Processes knowledge sharing: The dabbawalas have perfected the art of sorting, colour-coding, and routing, within a congested city like Mumbai. If they have arrived at this amazing process, which works in a chaotic environment like Mumbai (and mostly using either public transportation or low-key transportation such as bicycles), this model can be replicated in many other cities.

At the end of the day, what the dabbawalas do is to pick up dabba from point X and deliver it to point Y. Isnt this what Flipkart does too, in its last mile delivery – pick up package from Flipkart distribution center  at location X, and drop off at location Y (customer)?

This may not be only one way. For all you know, Ekart (which is the delivery wing of Flipkart) may have come up with some processes as well, which uses more modern tech and the use of sophisticated algorithms. It is very well possible that some of this might end up being beneficial in automating processes in the dabbawala community. An immediate example that comes me is bar-coding stickers instead of the traditional color coding.

Dabba delivery as a business: Well, who knows. If this proves lucrative and serves multiple purposes such as delivery on the way, flipkart might even get on to it.

Food delivery: If you replace the origin of the dabba from home to a restaurant, you have food delivery. If you replace restaurant to a catering service, you have a subscription based tiffin service.

The possibilities are endless…