Flip side of Flipkarting

We all love online shopping, don’t we? Even if it be true that a fool & his money are soon parted by e-commerce!

We have two delightful felines at home – Tarfield Longfur & Scrawn Cutepaws (never mind their Christian names, let’s call them T & S). Fetching their food and litter is one of the weekly tasks on our ‘to-do’ list. Now, pet products can be quite expensive with a kilogram of Royal Canin cat food costing as much 6-7 kgs of premium basmati rice. For some strange reason, India – a nation that has launched several space missions is yet to establish its own brand in this product category. Good deals are hard to come by and almost everything is imported.

With Prime Minister Modi’s latest surgical strike on large denomination currency notes, I was suddenly left with a liquidity crunch and two forever-hungry cats who refused to comprehend ATMs and macroeconomics. I turned to the latest panacea for all woes – my smartphone. Being recently anointed as an Amazon Prime customer with promises of free next day delivery, it was time to say TATA to the neighbourhood’s loss making brick & mortar enterprise. I hit the App, completed the transaction & stared back smugly at T&S. So far so good.

I have always prided myself at being deft at opening stubborn bottle caps and operating can openers. But the two packages that were delivered with utmost precision and speed by Amazon.in tested my skills. At one point, I was ready to give up and let the cats unleash their claws & fangs on it instead. T&S were keen on helping me with the cat food package but showed no particular interest in the one containing cat litter. With some difficulty I managed to prise it open and transfer the contents to a reusable jar left over from my last offline purchase. Have a look at the multi-layered packaging:

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  1. An outer cellophane overwrap which left no clue as to where it starts or ends
  2. Single wall cardboard box H-sealed with pressure-sensitive tape
  3. Void space between contents and outer box filled with styrofoam pellets (DHL recommends a minimum 6cm spacing)
  4. Corrugated cardboard inserts placed around the content bag
  5. A tough, tear-resistant plastic bag covering the shipment
  6. Finally, the original shipment contained within its own odour-free, tear-resistant plastic pouch

Remember, all this trouble for absorbing a week’s load of biodegradable cat poop! The times, they sure are-a-changing!

When I can get a product costing INR 410 door delivered within a day in a package that can survive a storm, why should I complain? Such luxuries are creating a tectonic shift in the way we shop and it’s no surprise that people are shifting by the hordes to online shopping. So far, it seems to be a win-win situation for all.

However, some questions linger in my mind….

  • Who is paying for the party? I got a 5-kg product costing INR 410 with free next day delivery. Contrast this with a Blue Dart domestic courier rate of INR 310 for the first 500 grams, not counting the extra charges for door pick-up. To me the math doesn’t add up, even with volumes. Can someone do an Activity Based Costing on this please!
  • What is the environmental footprint of these conveniences, especially on developing countries such as India with poor waste disposal mechanisms?
  • Does responsibility of the e-commerce service provider end with delivering the package, or should they have a role in closing the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ loop?

As an offshore pilot, I am alarmed at the very near-term possibility of coming across huge, floating islands of plastic waste out at sea one of these days. In this thought-provoking story on ‘The beach warriors of Versova’, Deepti Unni cites some apprehensions raised in the World Economic Forum that by 2050 there may well be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

While writing this article I was interrupted by a Flipkart delivery. This time it’s a tiny 32Gb microSD card packaged to a logistician’s delight; 6cm spacing, airbags & all. Let me get to work with those scissors.

Answers & suggestions are welcome. That North Atlantic Garbage Patch is closer than you think.

14 thoughts on “Flip side of Flipkarting

  1. The packaging waste is a concern. When it goes beyond control.. we will make nouse and hopefully come up with solutions. A friend had suggested mileage points for returning the packaging material for reuse.. not sure it is being implemented

  2. This had struck me also. The maths just does not make sense. Never thought about the tonnes of garbage they must be generating everyday. Thought provoking.

    1. Enjoyable read kps sir. The packagecanandshouldbe collected right away after delivery. this way they will ensure correctness of the product and the large good quality containers get back and reused

  3. Nice read sir. Very valid concerns. May be the delivery man can collect the packing. This would ensure we check out the package too. It could be returned immediately if damaged or unsuitable. Enjoyed it. Cheers.

  4. As usual, nail on the head KP. Great article. Loved the names btw. Adorable. Isn’t Mike Nath dealing with waste disposal. Maybe he has some ideas?
    Great read though.
    God bless

  5. Hi Kps…. suuuuperb article…as usual…. highlighting the pros n cons of online shopping…shows ur observation skills..n yes…the satire on packaging was something one really needs to think about…you sensibly put across the thought with added humour…which is icing on the cake… thoroughly enjoyed reading. God Bless !

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