In recent weeks, there has been a tussle between the retailers and the ECommerce platforms about selling what are termed as non-essential goods, in which the IT products are included. First the government allowed the sale of non-essentials on ECommerce platforms. To this, the offline retailers objected and they sent a representation to the government that the ECommerce platforms should not be allowed to sell nn-essentials, including IT products, as it gave an undue advantage to the ECommerce platforms over the offline sellers, who were not allowed to sell their products. The government conceded to their request and restrained the sale of non-essentials online. Recently, it allowed the sale of non-essentials in retail shops in residential areas, while still restraining the ECommerce platforms from selling them.
DQ Channels a sister publication of DQ Week, has been on the forefront to publish the grievances of various traders' associations in this matter.
These rulings have created certain problems. First, the IT retailers are not able to sell hardware anyway, since most of them have shops in market places such as Nehru Place. The online platforms could revive the economy while maintaining distance. But a restriction on them has not only impacted the online leaders, but hundreds of thousands of small-scale sellers, warehouse workers and delivery personnel, all of whom belong to the low-income category and face the prospects of economic hardship unless ECommerce platforms are re-opened. Further, this has forced the consumers to go out of their houses to buy from the retail shops, which is against the concept of lockdown.
The government should help the offline shopkeepers to open parallel online store and sell online till the situation normalises. This can sort out many conflict points between retailers and ECommerce sellers.
We had a conversation with Nilotpal Chakravarti, Associate Vice President, IAMAI, who says that there are lakhs of sellers from the physical markets across India who also sell online. In fact, it is these medium & small offline enterprises that are powering the online ECommerce in a significant way.
Resumption of one part of their business will help them with liquidity and will lead to larger restoration of demand. Besides, thousands of Kiranas are now leveraging E-commerce and its proven and safe supply chain for delivery to consumers. Today the only priority is to emphasize on ‘Social Distancing’ and e-commerce can support India’s fight against COVID19, Chakravarti further says.
About the issue of non-essentials, what should be kept in mind is that i n today's times when everyone is working from home, laptop, mobiles and accessory electric, electornic and IT equipment fall in the essential category Similarly, as summer intensifies, refrigerator would be an essential product. Hence, it should not be thought that only staple food grains, grocery and medicines are essentials.
Nilotpal Chakravarti says in this context that after more than a month of lockdown, the debate is not necessarily between what is ‘essential’ and what is ‘non-essential’ . The real debate is how not to choke demand completely when the country is going through a health crisis. The key to “returning to normal” is the fulfilment of consumer demand which under the present public health crisis can be effectively done through e-commerce. IAMAI, therefore, strongly suggests that whatever can be delivered to the customer safely keeping in mind the health crisis, should be allowed immediately.
The government has itself allowed a certain category of manufacturing, including electronics, which is ‘non-essential’ as per current definitions Therefore, for the manufacturing to start, it is also important that all these manufactured items are delivered to the customers, and ECommerce is the safer way of ensuring delivery to customers under the present health crisis.
Preservation of consumer demand is of prime importance that will keep the economy chugging along as the country starts the difficult process of economic recovery. This demand needs to be met and nurtured towards restoration rather than being suppressed to a future date. Online commerce is a safe and ready choice that is open to all sellers, including those who continue to see it is a threat. Lakhs of small sellers have embraced online channels and are today equipped to serve the country. Allowing full operations of e-commerce is the first step towards economic revival – one that helps buyers, but more importantly helps small businesses stay alive and start building towards a recovery.
--Nilotpal Chakravarti, Associate VP, IAMAI
In the light of the above, it is essential to reopen the ECommerce platforms in the interest of the economy, of the small-scale sellers and also the low-income workers who work in the ECommerce platform companies.