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E-commerce companies face double whammy of lockdowns, sick staff

Lockdowns, manpower issues, supply chain constraints and a surge in demand are hampering the delivery service of e-commerce players such as Flipkart, Amazon, and BigBasket.

As they witness a huge spike in demand for online shopping, all e-commerce companies are struggling to fulfil their orders on time. The problem is aggravated by the fact that this time, lockdowns are driven by state governments, and every state has different rules for them.

“Last year, though the lockdown was much more harsh, it was a national lockdown and there was one point of contact for all rules. This time around, each state has different rules, different times for lockdowns and also the categorisation of essential and non-essential products. From a planning point of view, it becomes very micro,” said a source at a leading e-commerce company on the condition of anonymity.

For instance, the lockdown in Karnataka, from the night of 27 April to the early hours of May 12, allows e-commerce players to deliver across product lines. But in the case of the lockdown in Maharashtra, e-commerce firms can only deliver essential products such as groceries, medicines and food.

In some states the decision on whether e-commerce companies can continue to service customers has been delegated to district level magistrates — and each one is taking their own decisions.

“Chhattisgarh has not allowed e-commerce and in Madhya Pradesh, only essentials are allowed via e-commerce. But the definition of essentials today is very different from the list which was created in the past,” said the source.

Manpower is the other key hurdle that e-commerce firms are facing. While many say that their employees are getting infected with the coronavirus, a large section of their delivery partners are also heading home due to the uncertainty of the lockdowns and the rising cases of Covid-19.

Deepinder Goyal, founder of Zomato, wrote in his blog recently that close to 20 per cent of the company’s employees have Covid-19 or are caring for a Covid patient at home.

BigBasket, which has also seen a surge in demand, is also struggling with its delivery timelines. The availability of delivery slots at the online grocery firm has gone up from a few hours to as much as two days. According to sources close to the company, many of the front-end and warehousing staff have fallen sick. “For such people, the company has announced a special 14-day privilege leave, especially those who test positive. But the larger issue is of demand shooting up in cities which have announced lockdowns,” said another source.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Currently, we are enabling deliveries of products in line with the guidelines set by the government. E-commerce and all forms of safe and reliable home delivery of all products are the best ways to maintain social distancing norms. Safety of our customers and our associates continues to be our highest priority and we are working across the operations network to enable faster deliveries to customers in these difficult times.”

An email sent to Flipkart in this regard did not elicit a response.

An industry source said that the situation was changing daily and no amount of planning could have prepared anyone for tackling the current wave of Covid-19 cases. Business Standard

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