Flipkart Partners With Mumbai Dabbawallas For Deliveries: But Does It Make Any Sense?


Mumbai Dabbawalahs

Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal announced yesterday that they have joined forces with Mumbai dabbawallas for last mile delivery of their products. He shared a video wherein a dabbawalla from Mumbai is sharing the news of their association with Flipkart.

There are around 5000 dabbawallas operating in Mumbai, which are part of several ‘unions’. As per reports, one of the unions have partnered with Flipkart for products delivery.

How Will It Work?

Flipkart will create several delivery hubs covering whole Mumbai. It is being planned that dabbawallas will pick up the product from these hubs, and deliver them to the customer along with the delivery of their dabbas or lunch boxes on the way.

Hence, there will be no contract between the seller and the dabbawalla. Along with pre-paid orders, CoD orders will also be covered. Considering that dabbawallas doesn’t use paper or technology, but rely on their specific codes to operate, Flipkart will provide them specialized training and teach paper work to maintain records. Gradually, they will be introduced to handle apps and smartphones for advanced tracking.

Who Are Mumbai Dabbawallas?

Legend says that around 125 years back, a Parsi working in a bank somewhere in Mumbai decided to stop eating outside food and made a plan of getting home cooked food; and thus the first dabbawalla was born.

Over the years, they have performed their task of picking lunch boxes from homes, delivering them to the specific office, and then returning the dabba back to the home with amazing precision. Using color and alpha numeric codes, they have been able to cover the entire city using only bicycles and local trains.

Around 2,00,000 lunch boxes are delivered everyday by 5000 dabbawallas with such exact precision that their operations are ISO 9001 certified and honored with Six Sigma certification, which means that out of 6 million deliveries, they can err in only one.

Logistics experts have done research into operations, they have been invited to speak at IIMs and other management colleges and even Prince Charles have appreciated their amazing delivery mechanism and had famously invited them to his wedding.

The most famous dabbawalla is Richard Branson, who worked like a dabbawalla for a day.

.. But Dabbawallas for Ecommerce Products? Does It Makes Sense?

There is a reason Mumbai Dabbawallas have been able to deliver lunch boxes (dabba) without any error in the last 125 years: their focus, which is lunch boxes. Using codes and colors, they have mapped the houses and the offices with amazing precision and have been carrying out their operations without any hassles.

But now, along with lunch boxes, if they are asked to deliver ecommerce deliveries as well, then it may create trouble for them. And for the office workers who are expecting their lunch.

a) They use bicycles and local trains to reach their source and destination. Will they be able to handle large boxes of deliveries using these modes of transportation? And unlike Dabbas, the Flipkart deliveries will come in various shapes and sizes, Carrying these are not going to be same as carrying dabba’s for which they have specific sized crates.

b) They use colors and complex alpha numeric codes to map the addresses and to maintain the supply chain. It works because as of now, they are only delivering one product: lunch boxes. But with so many different products being ordered online, it may create a new issue. It will take time to get adapted to apps and mobile.

c) At a time when Amazon is experimenting drones to cover last mile delivery, it doesn’t make sense for Flipkart to crack a deal with dabbawallas in Mumbai as they are specialized in lunch box deliveries.

Mumbai is the economic hub of India, and a strongly connected metropolitan. Last mile delivery issue is mainly causing problems in rural areas where there is no other logistics channel to deliver goods.

As we had reported earlier, India Post is the savior of ecommerce industry in India, with their massive network of post offices and human resource, covering every inch of India. Indian Railways can prove to be an able partner for solving the last mile delivery problem as they are everywhere. The way Department of Telecom has partnered with cable operators for last mile penetration of their broadband makes sense, and will prove to be extremely productive.

Mumbai Dabbawallas are experts in delivering lunches at the right time, and entrusting them with last mile delivery of ecommerce products certainly doesn’t make sense. Not only it will dilute their focus, but it can also reduce their efficiency and definitely increase the number of errors!

Do share your views by commenting right here!

  1. […] Exactly a year ago, we had reported the partnership between Flipkart & Mumbai Dabbawallas for delivering ecommerce products in the city. We had actually asked the question: Does such partnerships even makes any sense? […]

  2. […] co-founder Sachin Bansal announced yesterday that they have joined forces with Mumbai dabbawallas for last mile delivery of their products. He shared a video wherein a dabbawalla from Mumbai is sharing the news of their […]

  3. Altaf Rahman says

    My below point is going to be a controversial in nature. Please understand the logic.
    In logistics, the companies depend on individuals for last mile deliveries. How many times you hear that people transporting money in vehicles ran away with money abandoning vehicles in remote places?
    How many times you read news that the driver of a Company ran away with money withdrawn from bank?
    How many times you hear that a courier ran away with valuble deliveries?
    But have you ever heard a Dabbawala running away with a Biryani dabba risking his employment, reputation? Never in 125 years. Why? Answer is obvious. Its not worth a try.
    Now you are asking them to deliver Rado watches, Armani suites etc. What happens. You are giving them a feeling that “Earlier it was not worth trying. Now this is worth trying”.
    He is where I want to clarify. I have highest regard for Dabbawalas.
    All I am saying is God did not make them in a separate factory. All humans are same. All have equal emotions, feelings.
    The current 125 year old operations of Dabbawalas is perfect example of Computerless business in this world where nothing else can be imagined with out technology.
    Witht this new business model, you are tempting a rare few of them with a bait.
    If some thing happens, Flipcart will simply go away. But the 125 year record of perfect, errorless reputation will be permanently damaged.
    Another two paisa :)

  4. Altaf Rahman says

    When I read the title of your article, that’s the exact question in my mind.

    But think of the history of Dabbawalas. First when they started their operations, they planned their operations in such a way that there was no need of paperwork and computers. As the process is refined to perfection, there is no need for improvement.
    My point is, they made a beginning, experimented, found the perfect solution and then stuck to it for decades.
    I don’t think Flipcart owns Dabbawalas to demand the delivery of their goods.
    May be Dabbawalas took the challenge (to test a new product other than dabbas).
    Let them try the new thing. First let Flipcart give them goods, that are the size of Dabbas so that they can transport them with out a glitch. As time passes and new data emerges on how the performance is going, they can improvise on bigger sizes.
    But I feel paperwork (related to COD, carrying cash, depositing in offices) goes against the established process of Dabbawala operations.
    So initially Flipcart should use Dabbawalas only for small goods. That too on just deliver and forget basis.
    But my feeling is online business of Flipcart has no chemistry with paperless business of Dabbawalas.
    But nothing wrong in trying. Because, if we criticize now and later the concept clicks, we will be branded as people opposed to new ideas. Trying is what humans excel in.
    Just my two paisa :)

  5. Sreekanth Yelicherla says

    For me, logistics seem to be appearing the primary criteria for e-com companies. I still don’t see a point with Dabbawalas!

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