Ravi has been receiving mysterious packages at his home. On June 20, the Gurugram-based manager had a delivery executive with a cash on delivery package worth Rs 550 at his doorstep. Assuming that it was a delivery for one of his family members, he accepted it. Later when he checked with them, it turned out that none of them had ordered anything online.
The packaging had his name and address but didn’t have the name of any of the e-commerce companies. “I was surprised and tried to learn where the package parcel had come from,” recalls Ravi, who requested to be referred under a pseudonym. “My surprise turned into suspicion when I didn’t see any branding on the cover of the parcel.”
Ravi pressed further and the delivery executive (from Xpressbees), told him that the order was from social commerce major Meesho. Ravi has never ordered from Meesho – he doesn’t even have the app downloaded on his smartphone.
Nine days later, another package from Meesho showed up. “A delivery boy appeared with an order which I hadn’t placed,” he adds.
Upon some research, we found that in the last few months, several people such as Ravi have been receiving such ghost orders from Meesho — none of which they had ordered. These aren’t isolated incidents. There are a large number of online complaints across Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter where people are concerned about mysterious online orders showing up at their homes when they haven’t ordered anything. Entrackr spent time looking into 25 such posts and spoke to several people who had experienced it.
“I have never ordered anything using this app (Meesho). Still received an order. Since I was unavailable, the courier lied and took money from my old mother and gave a girl’s top which is of no use to me. Never expected this disappointing service from @Meesho_Official,” said Priyanka Aggarwal in a tweet on July 5.
Entrackr has also cross-checked the authenticity of some of the orders facilitated by these delivery partners through their AWB number.
Customers worried about the misuse of personal data
People receiving these unsolicited orders are spooked. Two such customers Entrackr spoke with were frightened about their personal data being misused. “These ghost orders are harassment, breach of privacy and potentially encouraging scamsters,” said Vikram Gandhi, a Surat-based trader who received one such mysterious order from Meesho last month.
This comes in the backdrop of Meesho claiming impressively high monthly order numbers, going up more than six times from 3.1 million in March 2020 to almost 20 million in March 2021. While this sudden rise in volumes is potentially a result of more people buying online due to the pandemic, it has left industry experts surprised since no other e-commerce company in the country has witnessed such a surge in volumes during the 12 months period.
While there is no way to quantify if these ghost orders have contributed to the spike in order numbers for Meesho, it seems like the company’s resellers are engaged in this practice of sending CoD orders to people who haven’t order in the hopes that some may accept it, making it a win for the resellers.
The resellers on Meesho typically share product catalogues, images and prices on social platforms (mostly on WhatsApp). They share a mark up price which includes their commission, too. Once they receive an order from a customer, they add the customer’s address and phone number for the delivery of the goods and the order is placed via the Meesho system to the seller.
Resellers have no risk in the game. They make a commission on whatever they are able to sell but have no risk of inventory or reverse logistics costs of these refused orders — which is usually a big cost centre for e-commerce firms.
Following the pandemic-induced lockdown in 2020, Meesho had dropped its own commissions substantially and brought them down to nearly 1%. This led to a drop in the prices of the products.
The resellers, apparently, started looking for ways to make up for this loss in their earnings.
For instance, a t-shirt selling on Meesho for Rs. 99 is selected by the reseller. They then add a commission of say Rs 100 on top of it, plug in personal information (name, address, phone number) about the online buyer. The reseller then places multiple cash on delivery (CoD) orders in the names of these unsuspecting customers.
The courier company goes and picks up the product from the supplier’s location and attempts the delivery at the customer’s location mentioned by the reseller. Given the low price of the product, the customer may end up accepting the CoD order, thinking that someone in the house must have ordered the item.
What gets confusing for the customer is that there is no Meesho branding on the package and customers don’t get to know that the package is from Meesho. There is also no mention of the contents and item on the package. The lack of information combined with the low value required to be paid as CoD leads many to accept the packets. There have also been instances of people refusing to take the order as well.
Now, when the item gets accepted by the customer, the reseller makes their commission of Rs 100. If the order gets returned, the reseller doesn’t make any commission. The costs incurred in either sending or returning the packet (called forward or reverse logistics) are not paid by the reseller in either case.
So, the reseller has nothing to lose and much to gain by pumping ghost orders into the Meesho ecosystem.
Entrackr sent a detailed questionnaire to Meesho seeking comments about these ghost orders, and a company spokesperson wrote, “We are unaware of any such incident taking place, however, we request that you share with us any information you may have uncovered in this regard to enable us to take appropriate legal actions to provide clean and user-friendly experience.”
The spokesperson further explained that since they are solely present for order fulfilment, Meesho does not display their name on the packages. They also clarified that “there is no misuse of any personal data at Meesho’s end.”
Queries sent to Shadowfax and Xpressbees last week didn’t elicit any response.
Are Meesho’s policies fueling the fire?
Sending unidentified goods in unbranded packets is one part of the problem. Apart from that, Meesho also provides coupons, first purchase offers, volume-based incentives to resellers — which become an added incentive for resellers to push as much volume as they can.
According to Entrackr sources, reseller agencies have popped up across Gujarat and Rajasthan who have deployed sizable people behind this operation to capitalise on this means of making easy money. The SoftBank-backed company, however, has denied awareness of any such agencies in their response to the queries.
Through our research, it has been tough to validate if the company is abetting or condoning this practice. However, it is hard to imagine that the company wouldn’t be looking at its metrics of orders closely.