Coronavirus: Ecommerce firms to deliver essential, non-essential items from April 20
Ecommerce companies are gearing up to deliver products like mobile phones and refrigerators to customers in areas that do not fall under COVID-19 hotspots from April 20 as government takes steps to revive the economy.
Apart from ecommerce platforms, brands are also keen to scale up efforts to meet the pent-up demand amid the nationwide lockdown that has now been extended to May 3. However, the government has provided relaxation and said some activities will be allowed in certain locations.
When contacted, a Snapdeal spokesperson said the company was preparing to scale up operations to meet the requirements of both buyers and sellers.
"Summer apparel, kitchen accessories, small appliances like headsets, tablets for school work, home printers, competitive exam books etc will be in high demand," the spokesperson said, adding nearly 50 percent of its sellers will be in a position to resume operations and more are likely to follow the lead after assessing the local situation in their respective areas.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company was focused on supporting the immediate need of consumers and also participating in the resumption of economic activity, post the Ministry of Home Affairs notification.
"We are working closely with all our partners - brands, manufacturers, sellers, small businesses, and local shops - helping them to offer the most needed products to customers. While we will increase selection that customers can safely shop from their homes, we will also continue to ensure safety of our delivery associates and our teams at our facilities," the spokesperson said.
Walmart-owned Flipkart also said it was working with lakhs of sellers, small businesses, and artisans that are present on its platform, and helping them prepare their business and workforce to make products available for consumers.
"Through this, we are not only helping promote social distancing but are also keeping the economic engine running for millions of people who depend on us, be it the employees of our seller partners, MSMEs, farmers or in the last-mile supply chain," a Flipkart spokesperson said.
Second phase of lockdown
Under the first phase of lockdown between March 24-April 14, the government had only allowed delivery of essential goods, including food, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment through ecommerce platforms.
The government on Wednesday issued detailed guidelines, allowing ecommerce companies to operate. However, companies had sought clarity on what items were allowed to be sold through these platforms.
Following the guidelines by the Home Affairs Ministry, states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Odisha have issued directions for ecommerce operations in the state.
Maharashtra said ecommerce delivery of all goods and commodities - including food, pharmaceutical, medical equipment, electrical and electronic appliances - will be allowed.
The Rajasthan government said all ecommerce/home delivery companies supplying all items/goods will be allowed to operate.
Previously, Odisha government had allowed home delivery by operators/ online delivery services such as Amazon, Flipkart, Bigbasket, Grofers, Urbanclap, Zomato, Myntra, and Swiggy.
Home delivery of all goods through ecommerce/online platforms has been allowed, while retailers of food and grocery items like Big Bazaar and Reliance Fresh are also allowed to provide home delivery services, as per the notification by the state.
These relaxations come with the condition that these companies will have to ensure that all precautions are followed to ensure safety of staff and customers.
Grocery and essential items account for a relatively smaller chunk of revenues of ecommerce companies, which count electronics, apparel, and household electronics as larger categories.
For brands too, the decision will come as a breather as retail stores have not been allowed to operate to ensure social distancing.
Smartphone maker HONOR said the move would not only make the necessary services such as digital payment and grocery accessible to users but also help them stay connected with loved ones during the stay at home period.
EY India Partner and National Leader E-Commerce and Consumer Internet Ankur Pahwa had said the government's move was the first step of returning to the "new normal".
He had pointed out that there could be some challenges for e-commerce companies across the value chain - from manpower availability to supply chain and fulfilment.
Pahwa had also noted that companies would also struggle in the near term as consumer sentiment would be muted especially on discretionary spends, and they would take time to reset their category and product mixes and, ultimately, manage unit economics at scale.
Industry body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has objected to the move saying allowing e-commerce companies to trade into non-essential commodities will "tantamount to create an uneven level playing field and will give rise to unnecessary conflicts".
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)