South Africa’s ecommerce companies are an asset in the fight against coronavirus that government should consider using, Takealot CEO Kim Reid has told MyBroadband.
He said that online stores which are allowed to sell essential items – like Takealot – should also be able to sell non-essential items.
“If we look at Wuhan, in the midst of the outbreak ecommerce companies were encouraged to continue operating,” said Reid.
This included the delivery of non-essential and essential packages, as well as food and take-aways.
Reid stated that ecommerce allows people to buy goods in an almost completely contactless way.
“Social distancing is built into ecommerce,” Reid said, adding that with a few simple delivery protocols, ecommerce allows for a very hygienic way of shopping.
For food deliveries, for example, the driver will place the carrier bag on the ground, open it, and let the buyer take it out themselves.
Ecommerce removes the need to classify “essential” and “non-essential” items
Another benefit of ecommerce, Reid said, is that the need to make a distinction between essential goods and non-essential goods goes away.
Since there is no need to discourage people from lingering in physical stores for too long, online shops can and should be allowed to sell their whole inventory.
Reid pointed out that since the start of the lockdown in South Africa, people have been reporting the urgent need to buy certain items which have been deemed non-essential.
“For a widow in a small apartment who uses her microwave to cook meals, it is a big problem if her microwave blows. To her, that microwave is essential.”
Likewise for a student trying to study from home, who suddenly realises that they need an LTE modem or a laptop.
“One of the top-searched items on our site that we can’t provide right now is laptops,” Reid said.
Ensuring the safety of staff and customers
Overseas ecommerce operators, especially Amazon, have come under fire for the unhygienic conditions under which staff are working to fulfil orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon has fired several workers who criticised the working conditions at warehouses.
Amazon said that it respects the rights of employees to protest and criticise their employer’s working conditions.
“But that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies. We terminated these employees for repeatedly violating internal policies,” a spokesperson for Amazon said.
Questioned about this, Reid said that he could only speak about what Takealot has done to ensure the safety of its staff.
“Takealot has had zero COVID-19 cases,” stated Reid. “We track all of our employees on an ongoing basis so that if we find someone who is ill we can react to that quickly.”
Reid said that the company provides safe transport for employees to and from home, limiting the number of people per vehicle.
Employees are issued with cleaning kits and masks, and hand sanitiser and masks are freely available throughout Takealot’s warehouses.
In addition, Takealot has appointed nurses at both its warehouses to conduct regular screening of staff. If an employee shows a fever, they are sent home immediately.
Takealot has also provided free optional flu injections to all staff at both its Johannesburg and Cape Town facilities.
“Our warehouses are also large, so employees can maintain physical distancing quite easily,” Reid said.
He added that Takealot will not force anyone to work. If any staff member feels that they are unsafe, then that is their choice to make.
Is it fair for online shops to trade when physical shops must stay closed?
Questioned about the fairness of allowing online shops to trade, when physical stores are struggling to pay rent and salaries, Reid acknowledged that the situation was challenging.
However, ecommerce players are in a unique position to be able to sell items safely.
“Why should the government let us operate when others can’t? Because we can,” Reid said.
He added that he is in favour of shops that are currently allowed to sell essential items to sell the non-essential goods they also stock.
“We’re hoping we’ll see some relaxation with the new regulations for the lockdown extension,” Reid said.
The Presidency has announced that the National Command Council will brief the media today on regulations pertaining to the lockdown extension. The briefing is currently scheduled to take place at 12:30.