Behind the scenes: how Flipkart is delivering festive cheer to the NE ahead of Big Billion Days
In India’s North Eastern corridors, that’s close to almost four international borders – Nepal, China, Bangladesh, and Bhutan – is the bustling city of Siliguri. Like most hill towns, the place is characterised by the usual humdrum of tourism and by the signs of unforeseen growth in Indian trade and ecommerce.
If you take a stroll in the city, you will come across a few Japanese-Chinese lifestyle stores, popular for their eclectic mix of everyday wares. There are also the globally-popular food chains, apparel stores, electronics brands, and more.
Even as each new day, these colourful, varied, and vivid new businesses come to life across the length and breadth of the city, Siliguri continues to bear an unmistakable charm associated with the hills.
It is after all, strategically positioned, spanning two districts, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, on the northernmost tip of West Bengal. Rightfully called the gateway to the North East, Siliguri is also critical when it comes to connectivity with the nearby hills of Kurseong, Kalimpong, and Mirik, each located some 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level, and within a 100 km radius from the city.
It is not difficult to imagine then, why and how the city has transformed into a vibrant ecommerce centre.
With its rapidly increasing population, access to nearby Bagdogra airport, and a gradual shift towards online shopping, Siliguri has become the hub of Flipkart’s last-mile delivery. The bunch of seven-eight delivery executives working in the city is delivering happiness in the hills against all odds.
Going the distance with team Flipkart
As scenic and picturesque the North East is, it is not hard to imagine how difficult the terrain could get with the slightest change in climate. In fact, during the three days of my stay, I experienced the vagaries in weather – it rained heavily on one day, and turned hot and humid the next day.
And to add to the unpredictability of the weather, the terrain is marked by steep hills and narrow, winding roads.
For the team of delivery executives, manning the last-mile delivery hub in Siliguri, each day is nothing less than an adventure. From sorting the deliveries according to location to their daily round of calls, reaching out to customers and alerting them about the impending delivery, everything is a matter of precision and alertness in the hills.
“Our routes are demarcated,” says 31-year-old Pintu Mallick, adding, “three hills every alternate day. For instance, on Monday, the boys will deliver to Kalimpong, on Tuesday they will deliver to Kurseong, and then on Wednesday, deliveries will be made in Mirik.”
Pintu, who supports a family of five including his parents, wife, and son, is among the senior delivery executives working in the Flipkart hub in Siliguri. Pintu has studied up to Class XII and has always loved the idea of a field job, as it would allow him to develop his “people” skills.
“I joined Flipkart as a wish master primarily because the job entailed working in the field, meeting new people, customers, and interacting with them. I feel this way, I can interact with a lot more people than I would in a desk job; this is something that is also integral in gathering relevant experience,” he says.
Places like Kurseong, Kalimpong, and Mirik, that this team of delivery executives cater to, are literally the tip of the iceberg. This last-mile fleet has traversed even more difficult terrain, travelling to remote areas like Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, and Jaigaon, a small town on the Indo-Bhutan border.
Spreading festive cheer
In Siliguri and its adjoining hills, where connectivity is limited and the transport system rudimentary, it’s nothing less than a miracle when a delivery executive brings a packed and sealed box to the customer’s doorstep.
Recalling one such early experience, Pintu tells us how a customer, elated to receive the water purifier he ordered online, gave the wish master a near royal treatment.
“He was so happy that he spoke to me for nearly an hour, he even wanted to get a picture clicked with me,” recalls Pintu.
Interestingly, this is not a lone instance. Ask any of these wish masters, and they will tell you how even the simplest act of fulfilling a delivery has led to such humane moments with customers in the region.
“Once, I was delivering in Cooch Behar… it was probably a first-time order for the customer and I was facing some difficulty locating the exact address for delivery,” says Tinku Barman, who prior to joining Flipkart, had worked with Wipro as a technical customer support executive.
He continues, “Due to one reason or the other, we were not able to connect with each other. So I had to ask around a bit, and somehow after mentioning his name to the locals, I was able to figure out the house.”
Ultimately, when Tinku showed up at the customer’s address with his prepaid order, he says, the customer’s joy knew no bounds. “His smile was priceless and he thanked me for responsibly delivering his order to the doorstep,” the 33-year-old senior wish master says.
Tinku, who first came to know about the position in Flipkart through an OLX post, has experienced nearly all kinds of customers – the good, the bad, and the not-so-understanding – in all these years with the
ecommerce company. Come September 29, it would be his second time with the Big Billion Days sale, an annual flagship event from Flipkart that has become synonymous with festive season shopping.
Braving the unpredictability in the hills
In preparation for The Big Billion Days sale, Flipkart recently said it has doubled the number of pincodes where it offers pick-up facilities to sellers. The company has even added around 30,000 kiranas to its network to handhold consumers through their online purchase journey.
In the North Eastern corridors, however, the BBD sale means only one thing: mad rush! From an average of 40-45 orders a day, the order volume increases exponentially during the peak festive season, doubling to almost to 120-125 orders per day.
Each delivery executive, during this season, fulfils more than the usual 14-15 deliveries a day. Explaining how they manage the peak-season traffic, Tinku adds,
“Let’s say we are out for the day with some 15 big appliances, so to make it easy we segregate the products among ourselves. This is done according to the location and the landmarks, the nearest customer gets delivered first in this process. We do this so that we don’t need to return to the same location again this also saves time.”
Another hassle is carrying large appliances manually, beyond the point where trucks cannot travel. “In the hills,” adds 26-year-old wish master Samir Majhi, “finding a parking spot for the truck carrying the packages is also a difficult task.”
In such cases, last-mile delivery executives carry the packages themselves.
But hills are also unpredictable territories, characterised by unseasonal rainfall and unfavourable road conditions. In these situations, it is only natural that there are occasional delays in deliveries. It is during these rare instances, quips Pintu, that sometimes an unsavoury customer interaction may have unfolded.
The only way out in these scenarios is to be patient and communicate effectively, he says, adding, ‘it all starts (and ends) with a smile’.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)