Every time Deep Malhotra travelled abroad, he would receive a barrage of requests from people in his circle to take something for their families overseas or bring something back from there. Malhotra isn’t alone. Every other day, social media timelines throw up a request from a friend, asking if someone is travelling from the US to India and could they, possibly, bring the latest model of their favourite gadget.Malhotra saw a business opportunity in this informal mechanism of people asking favours from friends and family. In 2016, the Mumbai-based digital entrepreneur cofounded, with wife Shikha Pandey and friend Mayukh Basu, a peer-topeer delivery service called Beck Friends. “The idea was simple: make everyone your courier person,” says Malhotra. Like any crowdsourced delivery company, Beck Friends offers a platform where shippers or senders can connect with travellers who are going on their desired route.Travellers offer to take a parcel from the sender in return for a shipping charge based on the size and weight of the package. The lure for the sender is that this amount will be about half of what they would pay a courier company. The travellers, meanwhile, get to make a quick buck on their journey. The company takes a cut. Beck Friends, for instance, takes 15% of the transaction as commission.
The items ordered through peer-to-peer delivery services are usually not available locally: rare collectibles and action figures, health supplements, baby food and baby care products, cosmetics and electronics. “Once someone shipped through our channel a soft toy his kid had left behind overseas,” Malhotra says.In the US, UK and China, crowdsourced logistics portals have taken off in the past three-four years. San Franciscobased Grabr has 450,000 users worldwide and $14.2 million in funding while Atlanta-based Roadie has got $25 million in funding so far. New Dada, mainland China’s largest online crowdsourcing delivery platform, has over 25 million users and $450 million in funding. Apart from these, there are Norway’s Nimber, which is quite popular in the UK, Socio Transit in Denmark and Friendshippr in the UAE.In India, however, peer-to-peer delivery remains a niche business. Malhotra’s Beck Friends has done over 12,000 P2P deliveries so far but 65% of his annual revenue of Rs 75 lakh – 1 crore comes from B2B shipping. P2P shipping is a low-margin business, he says, and therefore he has to find other revenue streams to support the business till the main function generates enough income.
Of the few players that emerged in India four years ago, Trunkpool has pivoted to online B2B truck booking. BMTFT (Bring Me That From There), which is currently shut for operations as its site is being redesigned, began as a Facebook group in 2014. At that time, its cofounders Rahul Mansabdar and Vasudev Masur found one traveller for every eight sender requests. “The sender to traveller availability ratio has come down to 4:1 since then,” says Masur.Mumbai-based Adwait Deshpande says it can be lucrative for travellers. While he was in the US in May, he picked up an action figure for someone and pocketed Rs 8,000. “It’s a good way to make money when you are travelling on a low budget,” says the 26-year-old.In most P2P deliveries, the sender orders a particular item on an ecommerce portal and gets it delivered to the traveller¡¦s overseas address. Rachit Sharma, 40, gets a lot of collectibles shipped to his house in Noida this way. These include a rare figurine of Superman for Tomorrow and several Batman figures. “A lot of sites I buy from don’t have an international shipping option. Crowdsourced delivery works for me because I can request the traveller to package it well to avoid wear and tear,” he says.However, Abhishek Kalia of Trunkpool says the business model can be tricky. “It’s hard to trust a complete stranger with your parcel, especially if it’s something valuable.” And what if the sender tries to ship something illegal, he asks.
Trunkpool has had a few cases where the traveller lost the package in transit. That and a skewed margin made them change their line of business within six months of inception.Investors, too, are not jumping at the model. Karthik Reddy of Blume Ventures says only business travellers tend to have unused luggage space and they are unlikely to carry parcels to and from strangers. “Unless there’s transparency, the responsibility for anything going wrong with the package lies with the traveller. How many people are willing to take that risk for a nominal fee?”
BMTFT’s Masur has a solution. “Verified profiles and an escrow account between the two parties for seamless payment will help solve trust and reliability issues to some extent.” He is planning to inculcate these features in the site’s redesign.Malhotra thinks there’s tremendous opportunity if P2P delivery services align with online travel agencies and airlines to utilise the extra luggage space. Meanwhile he keeps a weather eye on the horizon: will a big daddy or New Dada of the P2P delivery service arrive in India to disrupt the segment?
Read more: economictimes.indiatimes.com