Ele.me criticized for delivery delay function

Ding Yining Hu Min
Shanghai Consumer Council says decision to allow customers to specify a delay when ordering food defies logic as it puts the onus of them for traffic offenses or accidents.
Ding Yining Hu Min

Food delivery company Ele.me is to include a delivery delay function on its order page after coming under fire over pressuring workers to deliver food as fast as possible, at the expense of traffic offenses or accidents.

However, the move was criticized as illogical by Tang Jiansheng, the Shanghai Consumer Council’s deputy secretary-general.

"The rules targeting delivery workers are set by food delivery platforms, and it is against basic logic to make consumers bear the fault and even offenses such as hitting pedestrians and running the red lights of delivery workers," said Tang.

Under the new function, customers can pick an "extra five or 10-minutes wait" on the order page to extend the delivery time of workers.

Ele.me's move also angered customers. 

"I feel bothered to take extra time for delivery options, Ele.me should take its own responsibility to help address the shortage of delivery staff at peak times," said Agnes Hu, who orders two or three takeaways a week.

"There should be flexible schemes to deal with this problem instead of letting delivery staff take the risk," she added.

"Consumers should not be held responsible for the delay of deliveries or allowing an extra five or 10 minutes," said Shanghai office worker Angela Wu.

Ele.me offers customers compensation ranging from 1.8 (26 US cents) to 12.8 yuan for delayed orders.

An article in the Renwu magazine cited assistant researcher Sun Ping at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as saying the most important reason for an increasing number of traffic accidents is the less time ruled by the delivery site for takeaways to arrive.

Sun has been studying the relation between the algorithms involved in the route and delivery and its staff's labor output since 2017.

According to Shanghai's traffic police, in the first half of 2017 there was one fatality or injury involving delivery staff every 2.5 days on average.

The Renwu article also pointed out loopholes in the online navigation system which ignores traffic congestion and one-way roads and often offers an estimated time much less than the actual time needed for delivery.

Tencent-backed Meituan and Alibaba-backed Ele.me are the two major platforms for food and grocery deliveries.

Ele.me said it wanted to offer an extra choice for customers not in a hurry to receive deliveries and will offer incentives for their tolerance toward delivery staff.

When responding to questioning from the Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission on Wednesday, Ele.me staff said technology can not solve every problem and it can only partly rely on technology improvements to raise efficiency.

"For example we need to take into account the possible delay under extreme conditions and bad weather," said Yang Bowen, head of Ele.me Shanghai government affairs. 

Ele.me said it will make temporary adjustments to limit consumers to order takeaways or groceries from vendors too far from the destination to avoid too many orders within a short period of time.

"As we accumulate more data we're also improving the algorithm to better serve consumer demand and to raise their sense of pride for taking up such a vocation."

Meituan declined to comment. 

In the first quarter, Meituan had a 67.3 percent market share in delivery service transaction volume, against a 26.9 percent share by Ele.me, according to mobile Internet big data monitoring platform Trustdata.

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