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E-comm players facing tough tasks of keeping workforce safe as well as timely delivery of goods

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E-commerce companies will have to steer through the twin challenges of delivering in time the expanding number of orders from customers and keeping their workforce safe over the coming weeks even as the number of COVID cases across the country continue to soar, according to industry executives.

Various state governments have announced weekend curfews and lockdowns to rein in the second wave of the pandemic, which is seeing a record number of cases being reported daily. Most states have allowed delivery of essentials via e-commerce.

Delhi, for example, has announced a lockdown from 10 pm on April 19 that will end at 5 am the following Monday. Movement of people engaged in “delivery of essential goods including food, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment through e-commerce” has been allowed.

India’s total tally of COVID-19 cases has crossed 1.50 crore with a record single-day rise of 2,73,810 new coronavirus infections, while the active cases surpassed the 19-lakh mark, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday.

An Amazon India spokesperson said currently, it is enabling deliveries of essential products in line with new guidelines set by the government.

“However, we have learnt from customers over the last one year that urgent needs vary across households and it is challenging to define a static essentials list. We request the Delhi government to allow delivery and inter/intra state movement of all products to enable people to maintain social distancing norms,” the spokesperson said.

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.

Over the past few weeks, the demand in categories like grocery, essential items like sanitisers and masks, books, consumer electronics and appliances, has gone up across various parts of the country.

While players are ramping up efforts to deliver these larger orders in time, they anticipate some delays too.

“Due to COVID-19 related restriction on movement in the city by local administration, your deliveries might get delayed,” said a note on BigBasket’s app.

A senior executive at a leading e-commerce company said the industry could face tough times ahead given the continuous rise in COVID-19 cases being seen over the last couple of days across major cities.

While the situation is being constantly monitored and contingency measures are being put in place to handle the situation, there is added pressure as many employees and their families are now unwell, the executive said.

Leadership teams have stepped up efforts and are also reaching out to employees to keep their morale high during these tough times, the executive said.

Grofers, another e-grocery delivery platform, said it has built deeper collaborations with its manufacturing, merchant, and brand partners to meet the increase in demand and prevent supply disruption, and expressed confidence that there is sufficient stocks.

“With some state governments already announcing stricter lockdown norms, we are also ramping up our capacities to serve more consumers safely and securely,” it said in a blogpost.

Grofers also noted that whenever there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases in a given city, some delivery partners log off as they intend to go back to their hometowns.

“Regardless of these urban-to-rural movements, we are ensuring that all the delivery partners currently logging in for service are carrying a valid RT PCR/Antigen report during delivery, as safety – theirs and yours, remains our highest priority,” it said.

Grofers said due to the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 spread, it has faced (temporary) shut downs of store facilities as well.

“Whenever a merchant partner or their staff member/s has/have tested positive, we have taken utmost care in curtailing the spread of the virus – by isolating the infected individuals and securing the perimeter. These hiccups, over the last couple of months, have only helped us prepare ourselves better, and divert the supply chain as and when required,” it added.

The platform noted that to solve the issue of ‘panic buying’ and ‘hoarding’ of essentials, the company introduces ‘surge’ from time to time, to manage inventory limits without negatively impacting consumer experience.

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