"We regret to inform you that your order has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances" - This is a message received by lakhs of consumers who tried to shop desperately for essentials on grocery platforms such as Amazon, BigBasket and Grofers in the past few days, as shop shelves in neighbourhood ran out of stock following the COVID-19 lockdown. Grocery delivery firms faced identical hurdles across the country as local authorities and police stations interpreted lockdown (which explicitly allowed essential services such as groceries) as a curfew, shutting down warehouses, stopping trucks with supplies at state borders and harassing or bashing up delivery boys in neighbourhood areas. Online grocery platforms are, however, working with local authorities to restart delivery in the next 24 hours. While retail giant Flipkart announced on Wednesday that it would suspend its services due to the lockdown but will be back as soon as possible. Amazon India also said it has temporarily stopped taking orders and disabled shipment of low-priority products to focus on delivery of essential items.
"Our @Grofers warehouse in Faridabad was closed by local law enforcement today. While we understand they are doing their duty, essential items will be denied to 20,000+ households in Faridabad and Delhi every day. We need help in sorting this out. @Mcf_Faridabad @ArvindKejriwal," Grofers founder Albinder Dhindsa tweeted after demand surged. Grofers which delivers groceries in 17 cities has a backlog of over 2 lakh orders in the region alone. "We were prepared for the disruption on March 22, but rules are changing everyday and the local authorities are not on the same page," says Dhindsa.
Big Basket, which delivers in 35 cities is facing similar issues. "We will face some constraints for a few more days because it takes time to build capacity in terms of storage, delivery fleet and people. Our teams are working hard to streamline this and we will be back on track very soon," says a BigBasket spokesperson.
Dhindsa of Grofers says that barring products such as handwash and sanitisers which are out of stock, it has enough supplies of essentials and groceries. "The big issue is the lockdown and lack of clarity of rules because of which we are unable to deliver. However, things are getting better now and our priority is to clear the backlog." He says that Grofers at the moment is taking only 50-60 per cent of its order capacity. "We plan to deliver 24/7 to clear the backlog. We are partnering with the local administration to ensure that the consumers get their deliveries at the earliest," he further adds.
In a notification on its blogpost, Flipkart said, "Consequent to the order issued on March 24 by the Ministry of Home Affairs announcing a 21-day lockdown across India to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus causing Covid-19, we are temporarily suspending our services."
Almost all the e-commerce retailers have announced that they would be hiring additional workforce in order to ensure smooth delivery. The likes of Amazon and Grofers who are using kirana stores for last mile delivery have been asking their neighbourhood delivery partners to hire more people in order to cater to the surge in demand.
While consumer goods companies like HUL, ITC and Godrej have been talking about ramping up production of essential products, there surely is a gap in the supply chain, as shop shelves are falling empty. "Consumers are panic buying and the manufacturers are unable to supply on time. I haven't got delivery of products like Maggi Noodles and even Ashirwaad atta for over a week now. Hand sanitizers and handwash are flying off the shelves within hours of delivery," says Jiten Parekh, owner of a kirana store in suburban Mumbai.