E-commerce companies are gradually resuming all their services across the country today under the fourth phase of the nationwide lockdown. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines issued yesterday allow greater relaxations to this market segment, even as individual states’ decisions may vary on the matter.
According to the latest Union Home Ministry’s order, “all other activities will be permitted, except those which are specifically prohibited” under the fourth phase of the lockdown that ends on 31 May. Only essential activities will be allowed in containment zones though.
The MHA order says states and union territories may prohibit certain other activities in various zones or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary — based on their assessment of the situation.
An industry executive said on the condition of anonymity that e-commerce companies were waiting for more clarity from states before taking a final call on the resumption of services in various locations.
Senior vice president of e-commerce enabler Paytm Mall Srinivas Mothey said the move would help the company deliver to most of the metro cities which were in the red zones. “We thank the government for taking the decision for allowing the delivery of non-essentials in red zones across the country. This move will help us deliver to most of the metro cities which presently fall in the red zones,” he said, adding that the company has received a sizeable number of consumer electronics wishlist orders from metro cities. People have been waiting to buy laptops, mobile phones, as well as other daily use items for the last several weeks now. The government’s decision will also help in opening up supplies of consumer electronics from warehouses which are in the red zones.”
A Snapdeal spokesman said the MHA guidelines paved the way for a broader resumption of economic activities across most parts of India. “E-commerce has played a crucial role in the last two months by delivering a range of much-needed goods to consumers – within the safety of their homes. Our sellers and delivery partners have worked extensively to meet these requirements while exercising strict safety measures and we applaud their commitment in rising to the occasion,” the spokesperson said.
Other sources in the e-commerce segment said they were “ready and equipped” to resume customer services across India even in red and orange zones. They said that the relaxation would enable lakhs of medium and small online sellers to start rebuilding their businesses.
In the first two phases of the lockdown (that started from March 25), e-commerce companies were permitted to sell only essential items like grocery, healthcare, and pharmaceutical products.
In the third phase (from 4 May), the government allowed these platforms to sell all items in orange and green zones. Only essential items were allowed to be shipped to red zones.
The guidelines forced large e-commerce companies to focus on delivering non-essentials only in smaller cities, despite delivery norms being eased during Lockdown 3.0. This was because major cities continued to be in the red zones. Metros and Tier 1 cities contribute nearly 70% of total e-commerce orders.
Sales of non-essential items on e-commerce platforms in the first week of May were lower than the corresponding figures last year due to the lockdown. However, orders were scaling fast as people bought apparel, smartphones, and grooming products among other items.
Manpower availability is an issue that still bogs down the industry.