Order anything, however small, as often as you want?

Related post: How soon do you want your groceries delivered?

A few conscientious people consistently raise their voice against e-commerce companies using packaging material way too liberally. You may have seen these posts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn – about how they had ordered a tiny item and it lands up in a box 10 times the product’s size.

Those complaints absolutely have a point since this packaging junk ends up occupying space and further adding to the deterioration of the only planet we know. We, as a species, seem to be doing a stellar job in hastening the pace of the deterioration.

But a related angle in these complaints has always bothered me equally. That is this: should we order one tiny deo spray alone and let a fellow human being come and deliver that lone can of spray to us? How about ordering multiple small things over a day and get it all delivered individually?

Now, I understand that this is a fairly complex question to answer. So, here are some of the perspectives that I’m wrestling with, on my own.

1. Entitlement?

Some time ago, FTH used to advertise this:

Even the latest grocery delivery craze fanned by assorted ‘corns’ (uni, deca, sweet, salted, etc.) splash the front-pages of newspapers with ‘a banana’, ‘chips and drinks’ and so on as things that could be delivered within 19 – 30 minutes (depending on the brand).

Should we feel guilty that we are ordering two lemons, or a single pack of salt and have a delivery person come and deliver it to us?

What did we do before the massive e-commerce trend? We walked up to a nearby shop and bought the two lemons ourselves. Of course, the pandemic has upended almost every previously-held notion on every single topic, and retail is no different.

Also, are there any parameters to order small/single items and not feel guilty? For example, if we were sick and have no other way but to order something urgently, is that ok? What is not ok, then – able-bodied people who otherwise have time but yet choose to order two lemons urgently?

2. Scale?

Given how e-commerce companies operate, on a massive scale, it may be wrong to assume the most linear equivalent – we order two lemons, one person goes to a shop, gets the two lemons, and delivers them to us. If framed so directly, it does feel like an indulgence.

If you look past the hyperlocal grocery delivery model where a delivery person is assigned one single order at a time, the broader e-commerce model works on large-scale optimization. That means the delivery person is servicing an area and not just one house. This is the e-commerce algorithm magic at work. Even the daily order online stores like FTH and BB Daily have only one delivery schedule per day – the early morning delivery. The cut-off time for the previous day’s orders is usually 10 pm, and you can club as many things in your order. So, FTH advertising ‘no order too small’ makes contextual sense since that delivery person is assigned to the entire apartment complex/area and not just your house.

But hyperlocal grocery delivery is now encouraging people to order anything they want without worrying about the quantity or the frequency.

Let me illustrate a scenario: imagine you have a person named X that you are in touch with. He offers to deliver anything, however small, from nearby stores, within 20 minutes. How often would you order from him without feeling guilty? If it was one known person, you may think harder before ordering multiple times on a single day and perhaps club your items together to make fewer orders.

But should things change when you are ordering from a ‘company’ that has many, many delivery personnel? Should we overlook the frequency of our orders we place then, assuming that it is not just one person we are bothering often and an assortment of delivery personnel are at our beck and call to deliver every tiny thing we desire/need/want?

Or, consider this scenario: if you were to buy these things yourself, you may rather club items and plan a single trip instead of going out multiple times. Should that consideration be ignored when it comes to outsourcing the task of getting things delivered?

3. Price?

And to induce a habit, many of these companies also offer free delivery during the initial days. So, no minimum order value and no delivery charges either (early days, at least). Once you get into the habit of getting whatever you wanted to be delivered in 20 minutes flat, even if they add a delivery charge later, we may not think twice. Would we? I don’t know.

Or, consider the reverse: does paying for the delivery (a separate delivery fee) make it ok to order more, and order even small things, often? Should we assume that our repeated, multiple orders act as income/salary for someone else and we are actually helping delivery personnel? The more we order, the more delivery personnel are in demand, and that means more people are hired and they have legitimate work that pays reasonably well – should that rationale allow us to not club our orders and order whatever, whenever?

And when the delivery ecosystem moves completely to electric vehicles (2/3/4-wheelers), should we also be adding the ‘no fossil fuel burnt’ rationale to make us feel better?


As I had mentioned earlier, I have no answers. These are highly subjective, and depend on so many factors that are highly personal to people, and they can justify anything they do. Plus, the simple fact that so many incredibly funded startups entice us to order anything, however small, any number of times and promise ‘instant’ delivery, should we even bother looking at the human angle (even if we occasionally talk about the packaging material angle)?

For instance, I wondered: the food delivery brands like Zomato and Swiggy add human factors about the delivery personnel after they have been assigned on our order. Like what they studied/are studying, how many kids they have, what they aspire to do in life, and so on. Imagine another addition: the number of orders they have delivered till that time, that day. If, for example, it also adds, at your 2 pm order, “X has completed 25 orders today, so far”, would it change anything? Or, the equivalent for a cab driver: “Y has driven 475 kilometers so far, today”, would it change anything? Should it?

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