E-commerce breathes new life into India Post
WITH his rickety bicycle and sackcloth mail bag, 62-year-old Indian postman Chet Ram does not look like a worker at the vanguard of an e-commerce revolution delivering everything from mobile phones to cow manure.
He pedals long distances each day in rural Rajasthan state, ferrying packages to villages and taking payments in cash because most customers do not have bank accounts.
While in the United States, online giant Amazon and its ilk experiment with futuristic drones and one-hour deliveries, in rural India, e-commerce retains an old-fashioned feel.
Yet, the dawn of online shopping is changing the lives of people in rural areas and breathing new life into state-run India Post, which has faced a huge deficit for years.
In the past two years, the 160-year-old postal giant has tied up with 400 e-commerce companies, including Amazon and Indian giant Flipkart to deliver a diverse range of goods.
Its vast network of about 460,000 employees is spread across 155,000 post offices.
The absence of reliable private delivery companies outside the big cities led India Post to step in to fill the gap.
"Until recently, people in rural areas had aspirations but no means to access the market," Kavery Banerjee, secretary of India Post, said.
"Now we're delivering women's clothes and latest electronic gadgets even in the remote regions like Leh and Ladakh," she added.
It has been a huge success, with parcel deliveries increasing 15-fold to 75,000 each day in the past two years.
Most small post offices depend on unreliable public transport to collect parcels from the bigger post offices.
Postal workers use bicycles and old cloth mail bags, which make it difficult to transport bigger or multiple parcels.
Many rural Indians are still new to the Internet and are wary of e-commerce sites.
Part of the firms' success has been driven by giving customers the chance to pay cash on delivery.
India Post hopes the huge growth of e-commerce will enable it to to slash its US$800 million (S$1.1 billion) average annual deficit.