E-commerce companies say they are witnessing a steady growth in traffic after the home ministry on Friday extended a national lockdown but allowed the online sales of essential and non-essential products in zones that have almost controlled the coronavirus outbreak.
While there was doubt about the new guidelines announced for e-commerce, government sources clarified Saturday that e-commerce players will be allowed to deliver essentials and non-essential items in designated Orange and Green zones for the next two weeks, the time for which lockdown has been extended.
The Home Ministry's Lockdown 3.0 notification will allow these companies to sell non-essential items such as phones, laptops, electronic devices, apparel and appliances, which comprise most of their sales. The e-commerce platforms would be taking such orders after five weeks of pandemic-related shutdown which hit their sales severely. The rider, however, is that state governments will decide what items will be allowed to be sold.
Walmart-owned Flipkart said it is working with several sellers and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) across India. It further said its seller support team is providing constant online counsel and support to sellers on the platform to help them resume operations over the next couple of days complying with the government directives.
“We welcome the government's efforts in progressively charting out an exit plan from the lockdown and allowing e-commerce to serve consumers in the Orange and Green zones by fulfilling their product needs, in addition to serving essentials (and) grocery in Red zone through a safe supply chain and SOPs (standard operating procedure),” said a Flipkart spokesperson.
As a marketplace e-commerce player, Flipkart said it is their responsibility to enable sellers and the MSME community to bounce back and facilitate economic activity.
Competitor Amazon said the ministry's new notification on the lockdown would help the company serve people safely. “Millions of small and medium businesses and traders will now be able to jumpstart their businesses and livelihoods across their workforce,” said Amazon.
While the company would maintain the sanctity of the new guidelines around the Red Zones, Amazon urged the government to consider the positive role e-commerce can play to get customers all priority products they need in the Red Zones as well enabling stronger economic support for the small businesses while prioritising safety.
Traffic to e-commerce firm Snapdeal’s platform has been growing steadily since Friday night’s MHA announcement. Apparel and household products topped the list for searches and orders placed. “Users are thronging the platform looking to place orders for a wide variety of products for which they have been waiting for a long time,” said Snapdeal.
About 100 per cent of the sellers on Snapdeal are third-party, independent sellers. Most of these are small sellers and MSMEs who also operate in the markets and bazaars of India. The resumption of broader e-commerce will directly and immediately benefit them by enabling them to resume their operations. “We expect 80-90 per cent of our sellers in the non-restricted zones to be live in the coming week,” said a Snapdeal spokesperson. The firm said other sellers remain in readiness and are keen to commence operations - they will be assessing the local operating conditions in their areas and Snapdeal will continue to guide and support them in this regard.
Since a majority of Snapdeal’s orders come from non-metros, tier-2 and tier-3 cities, the firm expects a large part of India to be available for the deliveries. Logistics planning, which is a detailed exercise, will be done continuously as per ground realities. Snapdeal said it will endeavour to move maximum orders to meet the expected surge in demand, but this will be done in a way that prioritises the overall safety of the sellers, delivery partners and buyers.
Snapdeal has continued to accept orders for both essentials and non-essentials during the lockdown period. While the orders for government-defined essentials were shipped out continuously, it will now start to deliver all other orders received by the firm. Delivery of existing orders, including for essentials, will be a priority. Since there is also a large number of previously ordered products to be delivered, the company believes that deliveries may be slower in the beginning and will pick up speed later in the week.
Paytm Mall said it would start operations from Monday in accordance with the new guidelines.
As millions of people are working and studying from home due to the lockdown, customers are searching for work from home essentials such as mobile phone charges, earphones, data cables and extension cords and also fitness essentials on the e-commerce websites. They are also looking for stationery products and personal grooming items.
E-commerce companies were allowed only to sell essential goods like groceries, medical supplies, and baby food since the first lockdown came into effect on March 25. Last month the government gave an indication that it would allow e-commerce delivery of both essentials and non-essentials, but later said only essential items would be allowed to be ordered and delivered, a move that the industry described as a complete u-turn.
The decision marked a big win for small trader bodies, most notably the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which wanted the government to reconsider its earlier decision to allow e-commerce firms to sell non-essential items.
“It is unfortunate that the e-commerce companies have become habitual offenders in misinterpreting MHA guidelines and twisting it in their favour to misguide the various State Governments and authorities and to create unnecessary confusion,” said Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General, Confederation of All India Traders, on Friday. “There is no mention of allowing e-commerce to deliver non- essentials in Orange or Green Zones,” said Khandelwal.
The Retailers Association of India (RAI) on Saturday said the new notification by the MHA is a good start to getting the economy moving. “We look forward to clarifications from the states and how they would like to adopt these new guidelines. We hope that the government does recognise the safe space that malls provide for shoppers and opens them up in a regulated manner. The retail industry is still awaiting fiscal aid and policy support to allow it to be able to survive this pandemic,” said RAI.