With more states imposing mini-lockdowns and tightening restrictions to tackle the surge in coronavirus infections, e-commerce companies are again bracing for operational restrictions. Although they are better equipped to deal with the crisis this year than the last, a varying set of regulations mandated by individual states have made the task arduous.
Delhi, which announced a six-day lockdown on Monday, for instance, has not allowed inter-state movement of non-essential goods, an executive with a top e-commerce firm said. “That is the interpretation from the notification,” he told FE. This essentially will hinder shipments to other parts of the country given that a considerable number of delivery trucks pass through the capital.
“The borders will be choked and the situation will be too chaotic. It will not be possible for the police deployed on the ground to check each and every vehicle and figure out which one is carrying essential products and which one is not,” the executive said.
Other states, including Maharashtra, on the other hand, have not implemented any such restriction, he said.
“There shall be no restriction on inter-state and intra-state movement/ transportation of essential goods,” the circular issued by the Delhi government said.
Amazon, in a statement, said: “We request the Delhi government to allow delivery and inter / intra state movement of all products to enable people to maintain social distancing norms. E-commerce is the safest way to serve consumers’ needs while supporting livelihoods of lakhs of small & medium businesses including the local shops.”
An executive with another e-commerce company said night curfews will delay deliveries. “A lot of the activities involved in ensuring faster deliveries like sorting, packaging and movement of goods are done at night,” the official said.
Companies also emphasised that local authorities were rather quick to impose restrictions, leaving them with inadequate time to fulfil deliveries of non-essential products. “Many products are stuck in transit. Firms will eventually have to cancel a spate of orders and warehouses will get choked,” the first executive said.
Small businesses, which sell a significant share of these products, will be impacted due to the cancellations.
Vinod Kumar, president of the India SME Forum, said, “The state governments need to at least allow the e-commerce industry to cater to the people for all products and non-essentials. That is the only way to safeguard the interests of micro and small sellers as well as consumers.”
Industry executives are of the view that the demarcation of essentials and non-essentials is completely subjective. “For a person in quarantine, a product like a bed sheet is essential; for employees working from home, a laptop is essential,” said the second executive quoted above.
Although a representation to the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) has been made on the matter, companies are not very hopeful given that the issue is a state subject.
“At a time when eComm can ensure safe delivery of all type of goods with testing protocols being followed by delivery fleets, it is critical that we don’t see a domino effect like last year of states restricting categories of goods that consumers can buy online,” Kunal Bahl, co-founder & CEO of Snapdeal, had said in a tweet last week.
Some companies are also not ruling out a labour crunch in the coming days; many workers will want to return to their home states to avoid a rerun of last year’s crisis. “… whenever there is an uptick in Covid-19 cases in a given city, we tend to notice that some delivery partners would log off as they intend to go back to their hometowns,” Grofers said in a blog. The e-grocer is already hiring additional warehouse and delivery staff to cater to the surge in demand. It has also opened daily slots on its app so as to service more orders.