The onset of online shopping is changing the lives of people in rural areas -- and is breathing new life into India Post, the ailing state-run postal network, which has struggled with 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. It deploys its vast network of about 460,000 employees across 155,000 post offices to take goods to customers in remote areas, often hundreds of kilometres (miles) from the nearest town.
The absence of reliable private delivery companies outside the big cities led India Post to step in to fill the gap. It has been a huge success, with parcel deliveries increasing 15-fold to 75,000 daily deliveries in the past two years.
But India's vast areas of rural terrain, where roads can be poor and infrastructure patchy, pose challenges to the digital revolution. Most small post offices, depend on unreliable public transport to collect parcels from region's bigger post offices. Postal workers use bicycles and old cloth mail bags which make it difficult to transport bigger or multiple parcels.
Still, the value of cash-on-delivery parcels handled by the postal department is expected to register a 300% increase by the end of financial 2015 compared with last year and Indian Post hopes to slash its $800 million average annual deficit and improve profitability at its 140,000 rural post offices. It also plans to address the issue of tracking deliveries, including by giving handheld devices to postal workers.
The department has upgraded or added around 70 modern parcel handling centres with existing post offices in the last two years. It plans to add to its standing fleet of around 900 mail vans across India and believes it has had the potential to become the world's leading e-commerce delivery platform.