The Government of India, on April 19, took back one of its orders which came in as major blow to the Indian e-commerce markets. The order allowed the sale of non-essential goods on the online market places amidst the lockdown 2.0 for which many firms had already started preparing for dispatches.
According to the orders issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on April 15, e-commerce companies and vehicles used by e-commerce operators were allowed to function during the second phase of the lockdown leading to many online firms asking their sellers to prepare for a resumption of full-fledged operations. On the contrary, MHA’a latest clarification excludes the clause which allowed e-commerce firms to sell all essential and non-essential products from April 20.
A national daily quoted a senior government official saying, while the government had initially “permitted a long list of businesses amid the lockdown 2.0, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is the aim and so after assessing the situation and by looking at the circumstances the government decided against allowing delivery of non-essential items through the e-commerce platforms.
According to a Joint Secretary in the MHA, a review of non-essential goods have been conducted and it was ascertained that the numbers are high. Allowing such high numbers of deliveries would have defeated the purpose of lockdown.
The reversal has thrown e-commerce firms into a quandary. Flipkart, for instance, had already begun moving shipments of smartphones and other electronics to its fulfilment centres. As several state governments had also sent out written notifications in line with the MHA directives, etailers accepted consumer orders for non-essentials. On the other hand, the demand for non-essential items like laptops, phones, and more have increased with the ‘work from home’ being the new work model adopted by most of the companies.
E-commerce firms are now asking the government to add more items onto the list of essentials. According to Srinivas Mothey, Vice President, Paytm Mall (as quoted by a national daily), “The ambit of essential goods should be increased to include laptops, mobile phones, accessories, computer hardware, webcams.”
However, the Retailers Association of India, which represents offline and online retail firms, are of the view that “We believe that to fulfil consumer needs in these trying times, rules for direct customer delivery need to be broad-based and all types of retailers including neighbourhood stores should be allowed to operate.”