As state governments start lifting lockdowns in phases with the decline in covid 19 cases, retailers and industry bodies are asking for permission to operate essentials stores to remain open for longer hours and also be allowed to open up non-essentials retail including apparel, general merchandise and electronics.
Arvind Mediratta, managing director and CEO, Metro Cash and Carry India said retailers are seeking three things from the government. Expansion of store operating hours from current 4 hours to 8-10 hours, vaccination for frontline retail staff and removal of “artificial distinction” between essential and non-essential goods. “We’re asking that products such as kitchen items, electronics and appliances should be allowed. There are some artificial limitations on what can be sold, and they are okay for e-commerce but not for omni-channel and brick and mortar,” Mediratta said. Mediratta is also chair of industry body FICCI’s committee on retail and internal trade and co-chair of the food processing committee at CII.
States like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal continue to place restrictions on the opening up of non-essential stores. However, e-commerce has not seen a blanket ban on non-essentials deliveries. In Maharashtra, some districts have been allowed non-essentials purchase by e-commerce.
In a fresh set of letters written to several state governments, industry body Retailer’s Association of India (RAI) has once again urged local state governments to permit non-food category retailers to operate.
“In addition to food and FMCG items, citizens also require and have been inquiring about non-food items such as clothing, personal care products, baby products, electrical and hardware items, work-related and kitchen-related essentials, among others daily,” the letter said. “Non-essential shops of 1000 sq. ft get a maximum of 10-15 footfall throughout the day and social distancing can easily be achieved,” it added.
Earlier, RAI wrote to state representatives of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, and Rajasthan, and sought that non-food retailers should be encouraged to take orders over the phone and other electronic means for home deliveries. “Allowing non-food retailers to operate and carry out home deliveries will ensure that people have fewer reasons to step outside, there is the easy availability of non-essential supplies, and stricter adherence to social distancing,” RAI said.
Retail sales were down 49% pan-India in April compared to sales in April’19, RAI said in an update last week.
Anuj Poddar, executive director, Bajaj Electricals Ltd said the consumer electronics industry through Consumer Electronics and Appliances Manufacturers Association or CEAMA is seeking to widen the ambit of goods that retailers can sell.
CEAMA has made representations asking for the inclusion of electronic products under essential items during lockdowns. Online sales of electronics remain a grey area, said industry executives with several states still not permitting sales of products like phones, laptops and other electronics online.
“At least non-essential stores should be allowed to open up for some hours and give some window for consumers to buy these things,” Poddar said.
India is in the midst of a severe second wave and although the country’s daily caseload has been climbing down it continues to remain high. In the absence of a national lockdown, several states placed lockdown-like curbs in March-April with rules differing across markets.
Metro Cash and Carry stores are currently only selling essentials, that is, staples and fast-moving consumer goods. Its stores also stock home appliances, kitchen utilities and other general merchandise, which are currently not allowed to be sold.
Restrictions are actually very severe, Mediratta said. “Right now, we can only operate from 6 am in the morning till 10 am. And this is typically the time when there are hardly any walk-in customers,” he said. Business in May has been challenging with sales and footfalls down significantly.
In an earlier representation made via industry body, FICCI—Metro also sought that trader and kirana shops should be allowed to operate for a minimum of 12 hours on all days.
Last week, mall owners requested immediate opening up of shopping centres in states where cases are on a decline such as Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.
The shopping centre industry reported that restrictions imposed in April-May led to an estimated ₹3,000 crore in losses for malls. Livemint