Online retailing has long been a stepchild of economic policy, a fact that has been thrown into sharp relief during the national lockdown. Since March 24, online retailers have had to contend with poorly communicated policy decisions and a notification U-turn, thanks to renewed lobbying by physical retail associations. The problems began within hours of the abruptly announced national lockdown, when police across the states started assaulting online delivery personnel, even though the initial orders from the Centre permitted the delivery of essential goods by e-commerce companies. Though state administrations clarified the policy, police intimidation in forms of arbitrary border-checks and interrogations continued, discouraging delivery agents from showing up for work. This cannot be helpful when jobs are in short supply. The second phase of the lockdown, extended to May 3, compounded the problems. The prime minister announced allowing certain economic activities in areas outside containment or sealed zones after April 20. A home ministry notification permitted the delivery of essential and non-essential goods by e-tailers from April 20. One day before, however, the home ministry declared that e-commerce players would not be allowed to deliver non-essential goods, after all, with no clarity on when they would restart. This caused no small inconvenience to online retailers, who had started hiring warehouse and delivery staff in readiness.
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First Published: Tue, April 28 2020. 23:51 IST