With stores closed and roads locked down in many parts of the country, many people turned to e-commerce firms such as Amazon, Big Basket, Flipkart, and Grofers to get essential supplies like vegetables and other food items delivered home — only to find that the online platforms weren't able to make deliveries either. With the lockdown that is in place since Sunday to curb the spread of Novel Coronavirus (officially called SARS-CoV-2 or which was earlier known as 2019-nCoV), many people say they're facing difficulties, but most stores like Amazon are showing out of stock or unable to complete deliveries.
State authorities had said that essential goods such as food, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, and groceries all would be an exception and would be available to the public even through e-commerce sites in a normal manner. However, customers are facing issues in getting even food items delivered to their addresses.
Platforms like Amazon, Grofers, and Big Basket have all been showing products as out of stock or undeliverable. Similarly, apps such as Prime Now and SPAR are also showing unavailability of delivery slots across various regions in the country. An Amazon customer service associate said that they are facing a lot of difficulty with normal deliveries, and are working to resolve this urgently.
“To serve our customers' most urgent needs while also ensuring safety of our employees, we are temporarily prioritizing our available fulfilment and logistics capacity to serve products that are currently critical for our customers such as Household Staples, Packaged Food, Health Care, Hygiene, Personal safety and other high priority products. This also means that we have to temporarily stop taking orders and disable shipments for lower-priority products,” Amazon said in a statement.
Sources at Amazon, Flipkart, and various other online platforms told Gadgets 360 that the state police forces were restricting their delivery associates from delivering orders at various locations. In some areas, authorities are also temporarily closing warehouses of e-commerce companies.
In a mail to customers, Grofers noted; "Our delivery team has been held up at checkpoints and some of our warehouses have been locked by local authorities, as the situation due to COVID-19 remains very uncertain." It also asked people to cancel their Grofers orders in case they get their deliveries from somewhere else so that the slot can be allocated to other customers in need.
However, customers aren't satisfied. “I think all online players need to come together with a framework that's acceptable to authorities. There is just no way a locked down nation can survive without daily essentials,” one of the customers noted on Twitter.
Another user highlighted that various orders on the e-commerce sites were stuck despite being essential groceries that were apparently allowed by the state governments while imposing the lockdown.
The frustration of consumers is obvious since they aren't able to purchase essential products through offline retailers due to closure of local shops in many areas.
Forced lockdown for businesses
Grofers Co-Founder and CEO Albinder Dhindsa confirmed to Gadgets 360 that its warehouses in cities such as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi NCR had been forced lockdown and delivery partners from local stores were being turned back.
“We are working around the clock to support people who are relying highly on our services and are waiting for the essential supplies at their homes,” Dhindsa said. “We are also abiding by the rules and ensuring the maintenance of proper hygiene and sanitation in our facilities and vehicles. We understand that a lot of vulnerable sections of our society are highly dependent on our services and we take this responsibility very seriously.”
Dhindsa earlier on Monday tweeted the closure of Grofers' Faridabad warehouse that he said had the capacity to serve over 20,000 households in Faridabad and Delhi every day.
Big Basket also notified its customers through a message on its app saying it's not operational due to the restrictions imposed by local authorities on the movement of goods in spite of clear guidelines provided by central authorities to enable essential services.
We have been trying our best to serve the customers based on the understanding that we come under essential services.— bigbasket (@bigbasket_com) March 24, 2020
Big Basket Co-Founders Hari Menon and Vipul Parekh didn't respond to the emails sent by Gadgets 360 at the time of filing this story.
A source at a major logistics firm told Gadgets 360 on background that the police is shutting down some of its facilities in the country and that some delivery executives even claimed to have been roughed up while trying to do their jobs. This, he said, would impact the deliveries of Amazon and Flipkart among other e-commerce companies as the Gurugram-based company is one of the key logistics partners for many online retailers.
Amazon recently restricted non-essential deliveries in some European markets due to the coronavirus impact. However, the company is still looking for clarity from the Indian government on what should be included in the list of essential and non-essential items.
“We are working with the local authorities to enable us to perform these important services providing safety for our delivery associates and allowing them to make sure those priority goods can arrive safely at our customers' homes without any disruption. We are working hard and have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances,” the spokesperson added.
Gadgets 360 also reached out to Flipkart to understand their move to address delivery issues raised by consumers and a spokesperson in a prepared statement ensured that the company was working with the authorities to ensure the delivery of needed supplies.
“In light of some disruptions we have seen over the past few days in some states, our deliveries in certain areas have been affected, and we are offering extended delivery timelines,” the spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Gadgets 360. “We continue to work with the State and Central government to showcase how we can be of service to the nation by leveraging our efficient and robust delivery network to make products available to customers across the country and support in this ‘Fight Against Corona'.”
Sources at the Ministry of Corporate Affairs told Gadgets 360 on anonymity that they're making regular discussions with e-commerce companies in the country to ensure smooth delivery of essential products. However, at present, the issue is primarily the ambiguity around what should be considered as essential, for consumers in the country.