Last mile deliveries: Mumbai Dabbawalas to deliver e-commerce products

The following article is based on my own interpretation of the said events. Any material borrowed from published and unpublished sources has been appropriately referenced. I will bear the sole responsibility for anything that is found to have been copied or misappropriated or misrepresented in the following post.

Ruchi Patel, MBA 2015-17, Vinod Gupta School of Management, IIT Kharagpur


Mumbai dabbawalas have earned a reputation of having one of the most efficient delivery system in the world. More than a century old Dabbawala System has been awarded a six sigma performance rating by the Havard Business Review magazine for its astonishing service accuracy rate. Their results are spectacular: “one error in every 8 million deliveries.” Business schools, Universities and Corporate from all over the world invite Dabbawalas to give lecture on their Management skills. Even Prince Charles and Richard Branson have applauded their management skills.

Dabbawalas are certified to the international standard: ISO 9001 in recognition of their reliable quality management system.

Indian e-commerce industry is trying to the most remote corners of the country. The growth of e-commerce industry in India has been phenomenal in last 3 years.

April last year, the e-commerce firm Flipkart tied up with them for the last-mile delivery of their products in Mumbai. The e-commerce firm was keen, according to the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, to tap into the deliverymen’s efficiency. In the initial days of the tie-up, after a quick training, a few dabbawalas made the deliveries post 6 pm on their bicycles.

Mumbai dabbawallas haven’t quit their traditional deliveries of tiffin-boxes. Once their main chores are over by 6 PM, they pick Flipkart’s deliveries, and between 6-10 PM, they convert into delivery boys’ for them. Initially, Dabbawallas faced transporting issues, as delivering on cycles was taking too much time. However, now, they have been provided with bikes, and thus, the delivery capacity has certainly increased.

As of now, each dabbawalla is delivering around 15 parcels a day. Soon, more bikes are being procured for the dabbawallas, so that the deliveries can happen faster. The success is now inspiring Flipkart to ask dabbawallas to deliver fresh fruits, vegetables and other grocery items as well, which require instant deliveries.

Subhash Talekar, the general secretary of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association said, “The only trouble is most dabbawalas can’t read in English. Hence, only a few are delivering products currently. But as younger people join our workforce, dabbawalas more comfortable with the English language can do more deliveries.”  Considering that every ecommerce portal stores their customers’ information in English, the address labels on the parcels are also written in English.

Flipkart’s crowd-sourcing model has delivery personnel on a specialised delivery programme, post extensive background verifications, and they are free to take up deliveries as per their convenience, the firm said.

It will reduce the delivery process by enabling these personnel to directly collect the package from the local seller and deliver it to the buyer, a step that will reduce order to delivery time to as little as three to four hours.

Crowd sourcing can lead to interesting developments in the success story of the e-commerce giant.


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