The state government has said that these brands can only deliver ‘essential’ goods, but the definition of ‘essential’ isn’t the same for all.
E-commerce services are experiencing a déjà vu moment after the Maharashtra government announced that they can only deliver ‘essential’ goods and services for 15 days, starting yesterday (April 14).
This development is part of a stricter set of curbs that the state government has announced in its attempt to arrest the steep spike in COVID cases. As per the ‘Break the Chain’ file (attached at the end), e-commerce falls under the ‘essential’ category, and is “only for the supply of essential goods and services.”
Last year, during the nationwide COVID-induced lockdowns, e-commerce brands could only deliver goods that the central government had listed as essential.
“… a learning from the last one year is that urgent customer needs vary across households. It is challenging to define a static essentials list. Therefore, we request the government to allow delivery of all products as soon as possible.”Amazon spokesperson
The question today is, what items fall under the ‘essential’ category? Groceries and medicines obviously make the cut, but the list then gets murkier because what is essential for one person may not hold the same importance for another.
For example, when the list of ‘essential items' was first released after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day nationwide lockdown in March last year, sanitary napkins and other hygiene products were not mentioned in it. But they were added later after people’s complaints.
An Amazon spokesperson said something like this, “… a learning from the last one year is that urgent customer needs vary across households. It is challenging to define a static essentials list. Therefore, we request the government to allow delivery of all products as soon as possible.”
“E-commerce is the safest way to serve consumers’ needs, while supporting livelihoods of lakhs of small and medium businesses, including the local shops,” the spokesperson added.
We spotted a banner on Amazon India’s homepage that said it is “delivering essentials only in light of the latest government headlines…”
When you click on the banner, it takes you to the ‘The Everyday Essentials Store’ page. It features items Amazon India delivers in Maharashtra. They include grocery, personal care items, hand sanitisers, disinfectants, masks, healthcare devices, pet food, among others.
We (based out of Mumbai) tried to buy Nike shoes, but a message on the page said: This item can’t be shipped to your selected delivery location. Please choose a different delivery location.
Even Snapdeal, a New Delhi-based e-commerce platform, thinks that the government should allow all kinds of deliveries.
Its spokesperson told us that “our delivery in Maharashtra will be restricted to essentials, as mandated by the government. However, users will able to order from the entire catalogue and delivery of non-essentials will happen as soon as that is permitted.
“A household has varied requirements and many of these may be urgent for the individual users at a certain point in time. This is all the more crucial for those managing households without regular help, or those taking care of the sick and the elderly.
“We are confident that the government, as part of its dynamic review of the situation, will consider allowing e-commerce companies to cater to the complete range of user requirements.”
We tried to order a paperback version of ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ and realised that the delivery time changed as per the pin code – 19-20 days for Mumbai, as compared to Bengaluru’s 5-6 days.
It was a similar story on Flipkart, another leading e-commerce company. On its website, T-shirts were ‘not deliverable’, but soaps were available.
While we understand the list of essential items may change, we wonder what a person should do if the pressure cooker is damaged, because there’s no way to buy a new one - either online, or offline as of now.