Amazon delivers bedsheets, eye shadow at 11,562 feet

  • At an elevation of 11,562 feet, Leh is the highest spot in the world where Amazon offers speedy delivery
  • Local soldiers and monks are big customers for Amazon
  • The company began offering doorstep delivery in Leh as part of an effort to better serve the remotest corners of India

With big ambitions in India, Amazon has recruited hundreds of small businesses to get packages to the most remote customers — including those 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas. (Atul Loke/The New York Times)With big ambitions in India, Amazon has recruited hundreds of small businesses to get packages to the most rem… Read More

NEW DELHI: Perched high in the Himalayas, near India’s border with China, the tiny town of Leh sometimes seems as if it has been left behind by modern technology. Internet and cell phone service is spotty, the two roads to the outside world are snowed in every winter, and Buddhist monasteries compete with military outposts for prime mountaintop locations.

But early each morning, the convenience of the digital age arrives, by way of a plane carrying 15 to 20 bags of packages from Amazon. At an elevation of 11,562 feet, Leh is the highest spot in the world where the company offers speedy delivery.

When the plane arrives from New Delhi, it is met by employees from Amazon’s local delivery partner, Incredible Himalaya, who then shuttle the packages by van to a modest warehouse nearby. Eshay Rangdol, 26, the nephew of the owner, helps oversee the sorting of the packages and delivers many of them himself.

The couriers must follow exacting standards set by Amazon, from wearing closed toe shoes and being neatly groomed to displaying their ID cards and carrying a fully charged cell phone.

Amazon began offering doorstep delivery in this region last fall, as part of an effort to better serve the remotest corners of India. Sales volume in Leh is up twelve-fold since Incredible Himalaya took over deliveries from the postal service, which was much slower and required customers to pick up packages at the post office.

Rangdol and the other couriers get to the shoppers via motorcycle and scooter. When the snow is heavy in the winter, they will occasionally use a car. But two wheels are generally better than four to navigate Leh’s narrow, bumpy roads and dodge the ubiquitous cows.

Skalzing Dolma, a frequent Amazon customer, was Rangdol’s first stop on a recent day, receiving a delivery of bedsheets and eye shadow. Dolma has bought everything from clothing to kitchen appliances on Amazon and estimated that she has spent a total of Rs 1, 00,000 on the site. With few choices in Leh stores, cosmetics and clothing are popular categories for Amazon here.

Orders typically arrive in five to seven days, slower than the two-day delivery that Amazon’s big-city customers receive but quicker than the monthlong journey they often took with the post office.

Fortunately for Amazon, the local soldiers and monks are big customers. Thinley Odzer, a monk at the tiny Kartse Monastery, received a backpack. In the past, he has bought mobile phone cases and parts for his motorbike.

Amazon may never make money shipping products by air to customers in Leh. But the idea is that profits from dense urban areas like Mumbai and Delhi will subsidise service to more remote ones. “We want to make delivery convenient to where our customers are,” said Tim Collins, Amazon’s VP of global logistics. “Over time, the economics will work themselves out.”

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