Lockdown 3.0: People order online for non-essential items; understaffing can delay deliveries

NEW DELHI: From laptops to clothing, people logged into e-commerce platforms such as Paytm Mall and Snapdeal Monday to order non-essential items, but a lack of adequate labor in the middle of the shutdown could delay deliveries, according to industry executives.

E-commerce companies have been allowed to sell all items in the Orange and Green Zones beginning Monday, the first day of the third phase of the national shutdown that began on March 25.

Depending on the number of cases of infections, the areas have been divided into red, orange and green zones. In the Red Zones, which include Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, and Hyderabad, companies can only ship essential items such as groceries, medications, and health care products.

However, staff shortages in warehouses and logistics could cause delays in item deliveries, according to executives.

A spokesperson for Amazon India said the company saw demand for various types of smart devices, home appliance-related products, clothing and work from home facilitators, among others.

Our consumers in the Orange/Green areas are buying other priority products that they most needed. Thousands of vendors have received orders for the first time since the closing began in March and we hope this helps boost the livelihood of many small vendors and their workforce, the spokesperson said.

The company reiterated its demand that the list of priority products be expanded also for customers in the Red Zone in order to revive economic activity while addressing urgent needs and ensuring the safety of citizens in a high-risk area.

In the first and second phase of the national shutdown between March 25 and May 3, the government only allowed the delivery of essential goods, including groceries, pharmaceuticals, and health products, through e-commerce platforms.

A Snapdeal spokesperson said the company expects 80-90 per cent of its sellers in the Orange and Green Zones to become active over the course of this week. On an average, deliveries are being promised within 6-10 days and actual deliveries are likely to be completed in lesser number of days, the spokesperson added.

Thousands of our vendors received non-essential product orders on Day 1 ... we started collecting orders from vendors in Salem, Amritsar, Gurugram and Guwahati, among many other places.

Some of the products supplied by our vendors today include steel utensils, clothing, footwear, notebooks and pens, and electronic products such as power banks, phone chargers and laptops, the spokesperson said.

Paytm Mall Vice President Srinivas Mothey said that consumer electronics, laptops, mobile phones, home and fashion products are among the few categories that are performing well on their platform.

... we believe that this trend will continue in the coming days. As we have noted, older people ask for more to work and study from home. Depending on the type of product, we offer delivery times between two and five days, he added.

However, e-commerce companies also face challenges on some fronts.

An industry executive, who did not want to be named, said that less labor in warehouses and fewer available as delivery personnel could delay delivery times.

E-commerce companies may consider sharing delivery resources from other digital businesses such as online food delivery to shorten delays, the executive said.

A senior industry executive said that apart from the guidelines issued by the Center, there are rules specified by states and even districts.

Since the classification of the Red, Orange and Green Zones is in a dynamic state, it could hinder operations for online trading platforms, said the executive.

The zone classification changes according to the number of coronavirus cases in a particular area.

Additionally, independent retail stores, regardless of whether they sell essential or nonessential items, can operate in the Red Zones, while e-commerce platforms cannot ship nonessential items to those areas. There is no level playing field between the two modes, the executive quoted above said.

Another challenge for e-commerce companies that follow the market model like Amazon India, Flipkart and Snapdeal is that many of their sellers are either located or have their warehouses in Red Zones.

The interior ministry guidelines, issued a few days ago, are unclear about the operations of these non-essential market vendors, which are located in the Red Zones. Therefore, they depend on how local authorities issue their guidelines, the executive said.