On Friday, the home ministry had said all shops in residential and market complexes outside municipal limits and all neighbourhood, standalone shops as well as shops in residential complexes within municipal limits of non-containment zones can open during the lockdown. This relaxation is not applicable to single and multi-brand malls.
This note by the government was interpreted by some e-tailers as an indication of e-commerce also being allowed to sell all goods, which led to the government coming out with a clarification reiterating e-commerce firms can sell only essential items.
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“Sale by e-commerce companies will continue to be permitted for essential goods only,” the spokesperson of home ministry tweeted on Saturday.
This has upset the e-tailers as the government had changed its stance on the sale of non-essentials online last Sunday saying it will create a level-playing field between offline traders and online platforms. Traders’ organisations like Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) have supported the government’s stance of letting e-commerce platforms sell only essential goods while allowing offline shops to open now.
Several e-commerce executives feel that the current move does not give the intended level-playing field envisaged by the government, besides online orders can help meet social distancing guidelines.
“A gradual opening up delivery of non-essential goods through e-commerce will help meet consumer demands, which include items that will enable them to work from home, stay in touch with others and also address the rising temperature across the country. E-commerce can help meet these requirements in a safe and secure way while ensuring social distancing and allowing the government in continuing their efforts to contain this situation,” a Flipkart spokesperson said.
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Both Flipkart group and Amazon India, through trade organisations like FICCI and CII, have requested the government, at least, more items should be allowed for online sales as consumer needs are changing. Various work-from-home equipment, electronics, and kitchen appliances are in high demand, e-tailers have said. Apart from grocery, the government is allowing online sales of hygiene products for men and women along with fans and children’s educational books.
“E-commerce offers the safest way for sellers/retailers to serve the needs of citizens while ensuring social distancing. We are committed to keep citizens safe and urge the government to enable e-commerce to play its role in the joint fight against the pandemic by allowing the supply of all goods that people need over a prolonged period,” a spokesperson of Amazon India said. The company added e-commerce would reduce the number of people who need to step out, while at the same time help hundreds of thousands of small businesses jumpstart their livelihoods in these difficult times.
On Monday, TOI reported quoting estimates from Forrester that e-commerce growth in India could fall to zero after the government changed its stance of allowing the sale of non-essentials online. Products, deemed as non-essentials, contribute 80-90% of gross sales online. This may also lead to companies laying off supply chain staff or put them on furlough. Smaller independent merchants have had to delay the salaries of their employees with no new sales happening since lockdown began on March 24.