Why e-commerce companies should be allowed to deliver “non-essential products”

Last year, when most businesses were hit by the arrival of Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown, one industry that beat the trend was e-commerce. Unicommerce, a technology platform focused on online retail, reports that in June 2020, just weeks after the nationwide lockdown was announced, e-commerce sales rose 17% in India. This trend has been observed around the world. Experts say e-commerce growth has jumped from around 4.5% to almost 20% during shutdowns, with many consumers purchasing all of their essentials – food, medicine, household items and more – online. Additionally, as India’s economy opened up after June, the resumption in sales of non-essential goods coincided with huge pent-up demand, allowing e-commerce businesses to continue to record significant growth.

But as Covid 2.0 sweeps India, two changes in the business environment are worrying e-commerce companies, especially those selling consumer products. One is the decline in buyer sentiment as infections rise – a year and more into the pandemic, after months of job losses, pay cuts, business disruptions and rising medical costs, it is all too obvious why a further rise in Covid cases could lead to buyers delaying major purchases. Another is the new movement restrictions. For example, the state government of Maharashtra has imposed broad travel bans to slow the spread of Covid-19, for example by only allowing the sale of “essentials” during the new lockdown (until May 1) . This has hit the e-commerce industry hard on the sales and logistics fronts, affecting both revenue models and supply chains. Recent media reports indicate that DPIIT (Department for the Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade) has asked a government-appointed panel of experts to step in and resolve these issues. Last year, an “empowered group” was set up to streamline similar issues in logistics and supply chains that had arisen during the pandemic.

This year, states have had the freedom to decide their own containment policies to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In Maharashtra, the state government is monitoring the effectiveness of the new restrictions in monitoring new cases, after which it will decide whether or not to relax movement standards, such as allowing the delivery of goods. non-essential. Meanwhile, the Delhi government, as part of its week-long curfew, has also banned the delivery of non-essential goods via e-commerce from April 19 to the morning of April 26. And while state governments may want to open up e-commerce deliveries for non-essential goods, they are likely to meet resistance from traditional traders who will then also demand the right to resume operations. However, the security implications are different: e-commerce delivery places the responsibility for managing medical risks on distribution centers and agents, while opening public procurement falls on the general public. Many consider the former to be a safer option.

Another problem is the category of goods that are classified as “essential”. While some products – food, groceries, medical products – are immediately understandable as necessary, others are not, as crucial as they may be in everyday life. Take for example cell phones or computers. At a time when millions of people are forced to work from home, being able to replace, repair or purchase computers and phones is becoming a critical need. Or clothes, for the many families who have had weddings in 2020 or plan to do so in 2021. In a recent letter to the Maharasthra Industrial Development Corporation, the computer industry body Nasscom urged the government to State to allow e-commerce companies to resume delivery of all goods and services, essential and non-essential, while respecting security standards.

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With the continued rise in the number of Covid-19 cases, there is still no clarity on how long the state-level movement restrictions will last. The Center has made it clear that there will not be a national lockdown like last year, but urged states to set up micro-containment centers to control the spread of the virus. Either way, that means businesses across the country will be affected in the days and weeks to come. Governments must take whatever steps are necessary to alleviate the pain businesses – and consumers – will experience as the pandemic continues.

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