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2020-04-19

Amazon, Flipkart and other India-based e-commerce companies will resume sales of non-essential items from April 20

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Updated at 4 pm IST on 19 April : On Sunday the Indian government said that e-commerce giants will not be allowed to sell and deliver non-essential items during the lockout phase.

This revision follows the concern expressed by local retail organizations that the move would cause a competitive disadvantage for the still closed brick and mortar stores.

Sunday's decision "will create a level playing field for small retailers," India's minister of commerce Piyush Goyal said.

Kazim Rizvi, Public Policy Researcher and Founder at the Dialogue think-tank, said the reversal is a "unfortunate step that will not ease the burden on the economy or the people of India." He added, "A nuanced and consistent approach to tackling the problem is the need for an hour when India's economy first experiences a contraction in forty years."

Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and other online shopping firms will resume selling "non-essential" items to Indian customers starting on April 20, weeks after New Delhi imposed a country lockdown that has cost more than a billion dollars in sales to e-commerce companies.

New Delhi said on Thursday that e-commerce companies can resume accepting orders from customers for non-essential items starting next Tuesday, including smartphones and laptops. Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and Paytm Mall spokespeople have confirmed to TechCrunch that they will follow the new direction.

Last month, Flipkart, Amazon, and Paytm Mall stopped taking orders for non-essential items in India and processed only orders for foodstuffs, hygiene products, and perishables. The companies also scrambled to work with different state governments and shortage of delivery personnel, resulting in weeks-long shipment delays.

"We are now focused on supporting consumers' immediate needs and also participating in the resumption of economic activity following the notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs. We work closely with all of our partners-brands, manufacturers, sellers, small businesses, and local shops-helping them offer customers the most needed products. While we will increase the selection that customers can shop safely from their homes, we will also continue to ensure security at our facilities for our delivery partners and our teams, "a spokesperson for Amazon said in India.

Governments around the world are trying to strike the right balance for their citizens between safety and convenience. Amazon has limited the variety of items it can satisfy for its clients in many markets. Interestingly, the company has said this week in France that it will appeal to the government for a similar order.

India extended the nationwide lockdown this week to May 3, which started last month but relaxed some restrictions on several industries including e-commerce.

"Digital economy is critical to the services sector and an important factor for national growth. Accordingly, e-commerce operations, IT and IT operations enabled services, data and call centers for government activities and online teaching and distance learning are now all allowed, "the ministry said.

In the last three weeks, Satish Meena, an analyst with research firm Forrester, told TechCrunch, the lockdown has cost e-commerce companies more than a billion dollars in lost sales. According to the firm, non-essential items represent more than 65 per cent of GMV for online marketplaces.

"Allowing e-commerce firms to resume operations completely is a proactive decision taken by the government to help businesses get back on track and generate consumer demand. Paytm Mall is well equipped to help merchants connect with customers and ensure that products are delivered home, "Srinivas Mothey, Senior VP at Paytm Mall, said in a statement.

But customers should still expect it to take longer than usual for their deliveries to reach them. An industry insider said the companies will probably struggle to find enough delivery staff for another couple of weeks and not all companies would be proactively operational to process the orders.

Snapdeal said it will resume orders and deliveries across "all categories." "We will start with delivering orders that have been received but could not be delivered to buyers because of the lockdown imposition," the spokesman added.

Paytm Mall and Flipkart said that they are working with several logistics companies to serve the growing customer demands. "We are empowering the seller community through these efforts to further e-commerce efforts in promoting social distancing and enabling contactless deliveries for consumers. We are continuously working to ensure customers have access to products, as India is fighting this unprecedented battle, "a spokesperson for Flipkart said.

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