Huge online shopping backlog as looting disrupts delivery

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E-commerce retailers have warned of huge delays in the delivery of ordered goods due to disruptions in the logistics value chain, as a result of the ongoing looting and riots across SA.

The violence, initially sparked by the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma, escalated into days of chaos, as the running battles between law enforcement and looters continue unabated.

With shopping malls and other properties being looted, and in some instances warehouses being set alight, predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, this has translated into the disruption of delivery services, affecting various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, grocery and household, food and takeaways, and clothing.

As the catastrophe takes its toll on SA’s economy and results in low morale among the general public, Game, Makro, UberEats and OneDayOnly told ITWeb their online delivery services have been severely impacted. This, as substantially more South Africans have turned to e-commerce during lockdown.

Brian Leroni, senior VP of corporate affairs at Massmart, says the biggest impact on deliveries for Game and Makro’s online orders has been where routes are inaccessible or unsafe at this time, mostly in KwaZulu-Natal.

“We are proactively communicating with customers who may experience slight delays with their orders, and have implemented a number of measures to reduce the impact on customers. These measures include, where possible, rerouting orders to stores and facilities that are operational, in order to minimise delays.”

Despite the disruptions, the two retailers will continue taking online orders as online teams continue working to meet delivery fulfilment, adds Leroni.

While some stores remain open and delivery services may still be available in some parts of the country, large parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng have come to a standstill.

The E-commerce Forum South Africa (ECFSA) told ITWeb that while the online shopping body is currently not aware of any of its members’ warehouses having been attacked, a non-member’s courier depot has fallen victim.

“We are aware of a non-member incident at Westmead, Durban, where 10 armed guards at a courier depot were instructed not to fire at looters. This resulted in the looting of the depot. We expect that deliveries in some parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal will be delayed,” comments Lauretta Ngakane, head of communications, ECFSA.

“Everyone will be aware of the related problems – which include warehouse staff and delivery personnel being unable to travel to work due to the closure of public transport in some areas.We recommend to e-shops which expect delays to place a message on their Web site to warn customers.”

SA’s biggest online retailer, Takealot, has warned its customers of delivery delays on its Web site: “Some deliveries in Gauteng and surrounding areas may be delayed due to unrest. Affected customers will be notified of a new delivery date.”

Dis-Chem Pharmacy has also warned customers of delivery delays on its mobile app.

OneDayOnly spokesperson Matthew Leighton explains: “The ongoing situation has affected us in that our courier partners are understandably unable to reach certain areas at the moment.

“While this does not affect our output, as our warehouses are still able to dispatch as normal, certain parcels will have to be held back until such time that delivery is an option. Any customers that may experience delays will be notified directly.”

The unrest has also threatened food supply across the country, with farmers’ agriculture product producers being hit through the looting and burning of trucks carrying produce.

While restaurants have been allowed to operate following the adjustment of the COVID-19 level four regulations, UberEats says in some areas many of them have closed, impacting the food delivery service.

“In KwaZulu-Natal, our food delivery service is not working at all, and some couriers are considering re-locating to other provinces following the attacks of big restaurants such as KFC and McDonald’s in the big cities,” notes Duane Bernard, delivery driver and spokesperson for Uber Driver Partners SA.

“In Gauteng, the townships are all dead, as the shopping centres became too volatile to work. But some suburban areas around Johannesburg are still active as normal.”

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