There are no algorithms or optimisation of route needed

While delivery personnel quit their jobs or switch loyalties primarily on account of salary considerations, the poor working conditions are also a major cause of attrition. There’s pressure to complete trips on time in difficult conditions like rain, and the stress of dealing with unhappy customers as well.

According to experts, even cultural aspects play a part. “We (Indians) are a very class-driven society. There is not much respect for the service class,” explains R Srinivasan, a professor of Strategy at IIM, Bangalore. As such, not only are delivery personnel treated poorly by customers, but the job itself doesn’t carry connotations of value or respectability.

Overcoming the negative mindset

Even the higher salaries, Srinivasan believes, will not be enough to overcome these attitudes. Adding to this is the lack of career growth. A FoodPanda employee said as much. “That’s what we are compensating for. We pay for their efforts, riding in harsh conditions.

But at the same time, remember that we are compensating for a job that they might never even grow out of.” This, he admits, will get harder as the companies eventually scale down pay to market rates.

Rishabh Sinha, of private law firm Ikigai Law, which advises tech startups, says that when the food delivery market comes into an equilibrium with what the actual labor market pays for delivery personnel—Rs 15,000-20,000 ($206-275)—companies will have to find a way to improve the life cycle of these jobs from two months to six months or one year. “In the longer run, it’s very important to find a sustainable way to do this,” he adds.

Companies like Swiggy have already begun working towards this. They now offer health insurance packages to help decrease attrition and drive loyalty towards their platform. Similarly, Zomato, in an emailed response, called attention to its rider university which offers labor skilling and road safety programs.

“We want our delivery partners to be driven by the opportunity for skilling, insurance, and other welfare initiatives focused on their long-term betterment,” read Zomato’s response. However, they offered no specifics about any initiatives other than the rider university.

Government intervention could also help in making these jobs far more secure for riders, and therefore a more sustainable long-term career. Currently, no Indian law explicitly addresses gig economy workers, which means they are neither classified as employees nor as contract workers.

“It needs to have some checks and balances in the system,” says Sinha. “There should be some minimum wage, some basic pay, and some rights,” he elaborates. This, though, will take time. Regulating anything this new and dispersed isn’t easy.

But there may be an altogether different solution. One that already exists, but hasn’t been leveraged. Or even realized.

Leverage the existing

Maybe companies are just looking for their delivery fleets in the wrong place. Perhaps, offers Srinivasan, companies need to start looking elsewhere for talent that is retainable and dependable in the long run.

Srinivasan has been studying business models of e-commerce platforms, and he says that there is a huge unexplored talent pool for delivery startups among postal services, milkmen, local street hawkers, and newspaper delivery people who are well-versed with their localities.

“In the delivery market, who else can do it better than the postal services? They have got it right. They have pretty much mapped out the world. I can send a package from here in Bengaluru to, say, some city in England.

Role of the postal services

The postal services of both countries have got it figured out up to the last mile. And to be as efficient at that (for platforms) will be utopia,” says Srinivasan.

Interestingly, Indonesian hyperlocal startups have already picked up on this idea. They have been hiring relatable talent for deliveries rather than spending massive amounts trying to retain unrelated labor talent through incentives. Hyperlocal delivery startups like GOJEK, Grab, and others are depending on traditional ojeks or bike taxis.

On Indonesia’s infamously congested roads, ojeks are the equivalent of the auto-rickshaw in India, says Shobhit Srivastava, a product engineer at GOJEK. What he means by that is ojeks helped solved a problem for GOJEK because they were omnipresent, available on-demand, and where an established, integral transportation network in-sync with the urban landscape and existing consumer behavior.

All those companies like GOJEK and Grab had to do was latch on.