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Coronavirus effect: State curbs choke ecommerce supplies


Bengaluru: Ecommerce operators were forced to cancel or reschedule lakhs of orders for essential goods such as food, groceries and medicines across several cities on Sunday as local authorities and the police ordered them to shut warehouses, blocked trucks carrying supplies and dissuaded delivery agents from moving around on the streets.

The action against grocery e-tailers such as Grofers, BigBasket and e-pharmacy player 1mg and their on-ground staff, apart from larger firms Flipkart and Amazon, comes despite ecommerce being exempt from Section 144-type restrictions that have been imposed by several states in the country. “There was some confusion on the ground as the message from central government was not clear to local authorities as to what needed to be allowed. Better communication (is needed) to let services like Grofers, BigBasket or 1mg be allowed to operate will help make sure the flow of essential items to a self-quarantined India doesn’t stop,” Albinder Dhindsa, CEO, Grofers told ET.

The egrocer cancelled or rescheduled as many as 170,000 orders on Sunday. Dhindsa said his field staff reported trucks bringing supplies to its warehouses being stopped in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana.

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‘Ensuring Minimal Disruption’

Apart from this, the company also said authorities in Maharashtra and Haryana had forced its warehouses to shut down in view of the Janata Curfew on Sunday.

BigBasket, the country’s largest online grocery, also complained of facing similar issues, which has been leading to delayed deliveries and an inability to accept any new orders in several locations across the country. “We felt very let down by how the local authorities in almost all cities executed stopping deliveries and even beating up people,” a BigBasket spokesperson told ET.

A senior government official confirmed to ET that he had received several complaints from ecommerce firms and industry bodies with regard to trouble they were facing from local authorities who were forcing them to shut down their operations. “We are coordinating and communicating all instances of trouble these companies are facing with secretaries at the state level to take action and ensure there is minimal disruption,” the official added.

The action against ecommerce players on Sunday comes on the back of a few warehouses being shuttered by local authorities since the last one week, another person aware of the matter told ET. This despite the ministry of consumer affairs on Friday notifying that ecommerce firms, their warehouses and logistics facilities, wholesalers, vendors and delivery partners be exempt from any type of prohibitory orders. The move was aimed at ensuring supply of essentials to consumer doorsteps did not stop or face any hurdles.

Even medicine deliveries and other at-home medical services were disrupted across several cities. 1mg, an e-pharmacy and online diagnostics provider, said some of its Pre Analytical Centres, that run diagnostics on samples picked up at home were asked to shut in Delhi, Patna and Mumbai. The company added that delivery agents were stopped by the police in south Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Faridabad and Gurgaon.

“It seems that there is a need for clear guidance and notification for the police teams on ground, telling them that essential services should not face any issues during this phase. As of now, it seems there is lack of clarity and they are stopping all activity, including essential services,” said Prashant Tandon, CEO of 1mg.

Grocery deliverers are seeing as much as a five-fold increase in order volumes as many large format stores remain shut and people stayed indoors. The average order value for e-grocers has increased by 20-25%, executives at these companies said. On Thursday, both Grofers and BigBasket faced brief outages amid panic buying, as reported by ET last week. The demand is expected to get further amplified as many states declare Section 144 to stop the spread of Covid-19.



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Written by sortiwa

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