Lockdown 3.0: People turn to e-commerce for non-essential items; staff crunch may delay deliveries

E-commerce companies have been permitted to sell all items in orange and green zones starting from Monday, the first day of the third phase of the nationwide lockdown that began on March 25.

From laptops to apparels, people are logging on to e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Paytm Mall and Snapdeal to place orders for non-essential items, but lack of adequate manpower amid the lockdown could delay deliveries, as per industry executives.

E-commerce companies have been permitted to sell all items in orange and green zones starting Monday, the first day of the third phase of the nationwide lockdown that began on March 25.

Depending on the number of cases of coronavirus infections, areas have been divided into red, orange and green zones. In the red zones, which include Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad, the companies can ship only essential items like grocery, medicines, and healthcare products.

However, shortage of staff at warehouses and logistics hubs could result in delays in deliveries of items, as per the executives.

An Amazon India spokesperson said the company saw demand for various kinds of smart devices, products related to electrical appliances, clothes and work from home enablers, among others on the first day after delivery of non-essentials resumed in orange and green zones.

"Our consumers in orange/ green zones are buying other priority products that they needed the most. Thousands of sellers have received orders for the first time since the lockdown began in March and we are hopeful that this will help jumpstart the livelihood of many small sellers and their workforce," the spokesperson said.

The company reiterated its demand that the list of priority products be expanded for customers in the red zone as well in order to revive economic activity while serving urgent needs and ensuring citizen safety in a high-risk area.

Under the first and second phase of the nationwide lockdown between March 25 and May 3, the government only allowed delivery of essential goods, including grocery, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare products through e-commerce platforms.

A Snapdeal spokesperson said the company expects 80 to 90 percent of its sellers in the orange and green zones to become active over the course of this week.

On an average, deliveries are being promised within 6 to 10 days and actual deliveries are likely to be completed in lesser number of days, the spokesperson added.

"Thousands of our sellers received orders for non-essential products on Day 1... We have started picking up orders from sellers in Salem, Amritsar, Gurugram and Guwahati, amongst many other locations.

"Some of the products supplied by our sellers today include steel utensils, apparel, footwear, notebooks and pens, and electronics like power banks, phone, and laptop chargers," the spokesperson said.

Paytm Mall Vice President Srinivas Mothey noted that consumer electronics, laptops, mobile phones, home, and fashion products were among the few categories that were doing extremely well on its platform.

"...We believe this trend will continue for the next couple of days. As we have noticed earlier, people are ordering the most for work and study-from-home essentials. Depending on the type of product, we are offering delivery timelines between two to five days," he added.

However, an industry executive also pointed out that companies are facing challenges on a few fronts.

An executive, who did not wish to be named, said lesser manpower at warehouses and those available as delivery staff could result in delivery timelines getting delayed.

The companies could look at sharing delivery resources from other digital businesses like online food delivery to shorten delays, the executive noted.

A senior industry executive said apart from the guidelines issued by the Centre, there are rules specified by states and even districts. Given that the classification of red, orange and green zones is in a dynamic state, it could make operations difficult for online commerce platforms, the executive said.

The classification of zone changes depending on the number of coronavirus cases in a particular area.

Also, standalone retail shops -- irrespective of whether they sell essential or non-essential items -- have been allowed to operate in red zones while e-commerce platforms are not allowed to ship non-essential items to such areas. There is no level-playing field between the two modes, the executive quoted above said.

Another challenge for e-commerce companies that follow the marketplace model like Amazon India, Flipkart and Snapdeal is that many of their sellers are either located or have their warehouses in red zones.

The home ministry guidelines, issued a few days ago, remain unclear on operations of these marketplace sellers of non-essential products, who are in red zones. So, they are dependent on how local authorities issue their guidelines, the executive said.

Edited by Javed Gaihlot