Panic buying has led to a rise in orders for grocery firms. But delivery agents are facing multiple risks, from higher chances of contracting infection to working long hours.
For 32-year-old Satish, a delivery agent at a grocery firm, the last one week has been very tiring. Three of his colleagues, who deliver to areas in Central Mumbai, have been unwell and are on leave, and he has been assigned more deliveries.
“I have been promised a higher incentive, but I am not sure of when that will be credited. Customers, on the other hand, have been ordering products in panic,” he added.
Satish had applied for leave in advance for a planned medical surgery of his mother. But now knows that this has to be postponed.
Amid the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that has claimed four lives, online grocery firms like BigBasket and Grofers are seeing a surge in product purchases.
The rise in product purchases have also made the platforms hire people, even if it is for a short duration. For instance, to address the high intensity orders and for procurement, Grofers has temporarily on-boarded 2,500 delivery agents.
Due to the increase in orders, the delivery slots are also getting pushed by three to four days. This, in turn, has made customers buy products in bulk.
All this mean, the delivery agents are constantly on the run.
Albinder Dhindsa, Co-Founder & CEO, Grofers told Moneycontrol, that the company offers an effort-based payout and delivery persons get paid according by the number of hours and deliveries completed. Grofers has 7,000 working agents across India.
“About 90 percent of our delivery staff are independent agents who choose their working hours from among the delivery slots available. To ensure safety for our delivery executives, our warehouses are disinfected and sanitised on a daily basis to keep the entire inventory virus free,” he added.
At the same time, delivery persons’ work days have been stretched over the past 14-20 days. People on one hand are fearing spread of infection and choosing to order online, while rest are stocking up goods in bulk fearing a lockdown.
Either ways, it is the delivery staff who are having to make multiple trips. Worst are cases where products are being returned.
Areef Ahmed who has been working with a milk delivery platform and a grocery delivery firm said that customers buying bakery items in bulk are now queueing up to return products.
“What they don’t realise is that products like milk and bread won’t survive for more than a couple of days in this humid weather. While we are making deliveries, suddenly a barrage of return requests are also coming in,” he said.Most vulnerable
Delivery personnel are at risk as they are constantly on the field and touch multiple surfaces, raising the possibility of contracting the infection. While the grocery firms are conducting mandatory screening at warehouses and checking temperatures, the real danger is when they visit people’s homes.
‘Contactless’ delivery is being promoted. Now, the delivery person can leave the products at a designated spot outside the door. For cash-on-delivery items, payment can be made in a sealed envelope with the balance being credited to the e-wallet.
Tanuja Tewari, Vice President-Human Resources, BigBasket, said they are not encouraging long hours and have now opened up slots for a full week as against same day or next day delivery.
BigBasket has around 10,000 delivery personnel across India. The platform is now imparting training on the do’s and don'ts through simple animated videos, posters and regular announcements at its stores.
At this time, customers behaving in an insensitive manner are not uncommon. Rajpal an agent who delivers to the Matunga and Sion areas of Mumbai said many customers do not offer a glass of water for fear of contracting an infection.
“I don't like the behaviour meted out by a few customers. They neither let us use their washrooms nor give us water if we ask for it. There is this perception that we have high chances of contracting the virus,” he added.
Rajpal is already working double shifts to make for the rise in demand among customers. But it is already taking a toll on his health. He has been facing acidity issues for the past one week.While there is uncertainty on how long it will take to tide over the COVID-19 crisis, the toughest job seems to that of the delivery persons who are all out to ensure that people don’t run out of their essential food stock.