According to consulting firm Technopak, India’s ecommerce startups spend as much as 30 percent of their net income on logistics. It’s a big reason why India’s ecommerce giants, Flipkart and Snapdeal, still aren’t profitable – and partially the reason why the country’s logistics industry is worth a staggering US$300 billion.
Whether it’s large logistics firms like DHL, Gati, or Ecom Express providing one-stop-shops or startups reinventing the supply chain, it’s a sector ripe with fodder for disruption.
First mile and last mile
The first mile – picking up a package – and the last mile – dropping it off – share some similarities. The path between a buyer or seller’s location and storage units (think of them as nodes) is as unique as each customer and requires specific transportation. How can this journey be as affordable, quick, and efficient as possible?
Startups like Roadrunnr have turned the last-mile delivery service into lucrative businesses. Roadrunnr has been known to use electric scooters in order to help minimize costs from INR300 to INR10 (US$4.50 to US$0.15) a day.
Opinio, a hyperlocal logistics startup, helps make deliveries within a radius of five to seven kilometers and recent entrant Jugnoo takes advantage of India’s massive fleet of auto rickshaws to conduct deliveries.
On the other end, Parcelled comes to a seller’s doorstep, brings along packaging materials, and helps properly prepare a product for its journey.
Once a product reaches a node – maybe a warehouse or a fulfillment center – the way it’s stocked is crucial. Stocking it right can save precious time when shipping, reduce electricity usage, and make the most of storage space.
Some startups work on making these processes easier.
Grey Orange helps organize and automate warehouses. It has two main products, the Butler and the Sorter. The Butler organizes storage and product picking. Its features include customized stocking – moving products that are likely to be ordered closer to “picking stations” – and organizing packages in a way that improves the use of space. The Sorter is used to scan and sort packages and claims a pace of up to 6,000 per hour.
ArkRobot is another warehouse automator that uses an army of robots to store and organize products and containers within a warehouse. Employees ask ArkRobots to retrieve their products when they want to ship a product out of a warehouse.
For smaller ecommerce startups, warehouses can be expensive and unnecessarily large. Boxme provides warehouse space on rent.
Inter-city and intra-city shipping
In between nodes, packages can be shipped in bulk. This means that, as long as they’ve both ordered from Snapdeal sellers based in Delhi, there is no difference in transport for a buyer who has ordered a television or a buyer who has bought a pair of socks.
Freights, trains, and planes can be expensive and are often owned by larger companies. While they’re often hard to keep track of, they can cover long distances in short times. Many startups work on organizing and disrupting the world of cheap, on-ground shipping.
Conventionally, mini-trucks have helped conduct affordable package movement. Startups like Blowhorn use an Uber-esque model to help customers book them on demand. While there are plenty of others in this space working both within city limits and outside – Shipper, The Porter, and TheKarrier, to name a few – the market for mini-truck transportation is enormous and is estimated to be worth anywhere between US$4-9 billion.
Others feel that it’s inefficient to hire a single driver to ship goods across a country. Rivigo is essentially a relay system for truckers that have to make long deliveries. It uses a network of drivers across India that are located in hub cities. Each trucker is assigned a leg of work between two of these points.
There are also several startups that leave it up to shippers and loaders to manage themselves. This includes Mahindra and Mahindra’s SmartShift, an online portal that connects people that want to ship goods with truckers, as well as TruckSuvidha, and TruckMandi.
There’s always room to tighten your supply chain. Plenty of data collection startups are capitalizing on this fact – interestingly enough, there are several combinations of startups that provide both last mile and back-end technology services, perhaps because seamless automation is the only way to handle a problem so vast.
LogiNext analyzes the internal data of logistics companies in order to improve their work. Its products include Track-A-Pack, a coordinated system that places matchbox-sized trackers in vehicles and shipment bags in order to keep track of them as they move from hub to hub, and Point-to-Point, an app based system that assigns last-mile tasks to local delivery boys and vehicles by considering factors like priority, distance, and type of vehicle.
Others, like Locus, automate delivery processes in a more hyperlocal sense. Once a package is out for delivery within a smaller radius, it tracks and manages it.
Startups like ShipDroid take technology a step further and focus on helping people save money. Once an ecommerce site lists with ShipDroid, it can sift through a bunch of courier services to pick the cheapest and quickest one.
One stop shops
While there is plenty of room for the coexistence of many startups, some firms continue to believe that they can do it all. Companies like DHL’s Blue Dart and Gati have existed for years in the one-stop-shop sector and, as Ecom Express founder T.A. Krishnan explained to Tech in Asia in an earlier interview, many believe that logistical planning requires a single bullet. “Logistics is a core business,” Krishnan explains. “It’s not a secondary thing for companies to focus on.”
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