With ecommerce companies raising concerns of heavy disruption of services across locked down regions with the central government on Monday, the consumer affairs department has now asked its nodal officers across states to hold discussions with these players to resolve the issues.
Online players said local authorities are forcing closure of warehouses, stopping delivery partners and even taking some into police custody, despite the central government on Friday giving clear instructions to states that ecommerce operations must be exempted from. Sources privy to the developments told CNBC-TV18 that some delivery partners were briefly arrested in Haryana on Sunday.
The consumer affairs department had on Friday asked all states to ensure ecommerce operations are not disrupted and are provided exemption from prohibitory orders brought in place across multiple states to curb the spread of COVID-19. The move was done to ensure supply of good and services to citizens is not interrupted.
The department of consumer affairs has written a letter to chief secretaries of all states to exempt ecommerce operations, including warehousing, logistics, wholesalers vendors and delivery partners. However, ecommerce players said they faced a heavy-handed approach from authorities across states on Sunday.
“Some of our delivery personnel were taken into custody for some time on Sunday in Haryana for breaking the curfew,” said an executive of an ecommerce company, who did not wish to be named.
“The ecommerce companies raised these issues with us. We have asked nodal officers of the department across states to hold discussions with ecommerce companies on the matter,” Vineet Mathur, joint secretary, consumer affairs department, told CNBC-TV 18. “We have also asked ecommerce companies to provide delivery partners with ID cards,” he added.
With several state governments announcing that ecommerce operations only for essential items must be allowed to continue, industry players also sought clarity on the definition of ‘essential items’, and said that apart from food, medicines and sanitizers, customers were also increasingly looking for other items such as diapers, hardware for work-from-home and other personal requirements.
“We have seen several customers ordering for earphones and other such accessories given that many are now working from home and may need to use such items. There needs to be an expansion of the list of essential items for ecommerce deliveries,” an executive of one of the ecommerce firms said.
“We have asked ecommerce companies to priorities essential items such as food grains, fruits, vegetables, masks, sanitizers. But there is no restriction on delivery of other items as well,” the joint secretary said.
Industry members have said on-ground realities have not reflected the communication from the central government to let ecommerce operations run.
“Due to some confusion regarding the services exempted, many of our delivery riders were stopped by police administration, which led to a delay in the delivery of almost 60,000 orders countrywide on March 22,” egrocery platform Grofers said in a statement.
“This does not only affect the morale of the delivery staff who are working selflessly to support people but is also causing inconvenience to many customers who are relying highly on our services. Furthermore, in a few states including Maharashtra, we are also facing forced shut down of warehouses in these difficult times."
"Our teams are working relentlessly to support people and managing deliveries to avoid any kind of panic among consumers and we request authorities to take measures to ensure that the process of essential items delivery remains smooth. We are abiding by the rules and ensuring the maintenance of proper hygiene and sanitation in our facilities and vehicles,’ the company added.
Flipkart said, "While our teams are working with center as well as state authorities to ensure that we continue to serve the communities ... There are operational issues on ground which impact our ability to seamlessly service the communities as they stay indoors. We are working with central and state government as an industry to solve for these challenges.”
Ecommerce deliveries are further likely to be impacted as companies themselves take steps in the light of the lock down.
Amazon India informed sellers that it will not do any pick-ups on Monday of products from sellers’ warehouses and even the fullest centres as several sellers run in partnership with Amazon under the Seller Flex programme. The communication sent from the company to sellers was reviewed by CNBC-TV 18. The company also informed sellers that all scheduled inbound appointments at its fulfilment centres for Monday will be postponed. The company did not offer comments.