Ecommerce restrictions are a mistake – Online stores

South Africa’s COVID-19 alert level will be reduced to level 4 on 1 May, which means some restrictions that have applied during the lockdown will be relaxed.

Online stores, however, will only be able to sell a slightly extended list of essential products, despite their relatively low-risk operations and mode of delivery.

Ecommerce companies previously lobbied Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel to allow them to return to operation and transport goods to South Africas alongside the implementation of stringent preventative measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Restrictions on which products online stores will be able to sell remain heavy, however, and many companies continue to voice their disagreement with the government’s regulatory approach to the ecommerce sector.

MyBroadband spoke to major ecommerce companies about their perspective on the level 4 restrictions.


OneDayOnly

OneDayOnly said that like the rest of South Africa, it is proud of the way President Cyril Ramaphosa has responded so quickly and decisively to the coronavirus.

“We are, however, concerned about [Minister of Trade and Industry] Ebrahim Patel’s response to ecommerce,” the company said. “Ecommerce is being used worldwide as part of the solution to this terrible pandemic.”

“Safe deliveries to your front door, ensuring that people do not unnecessarily leave their homes, is a great way to curb the spread of this disease and serve the people of South Africa.”

“In fact, in our opinion, we should be discouraging people from shopping in supermarkets and retail shops where we are seeing transmission of the virus occurring,” the company added.

OneDayOnly said it strongly believes that extending the range of products available for purchase will only benefit customers and slowly wake up the South African economy.

“Like many other online retailers in South Africa, we have turned our business around over the last few weeks to focus on the delivery of essential items during this time, as well as delivery of what are referred to as ‘non-essential items’ until after lockdown,” it said.

“We strongly feel that extending the products that can be delivered will only benefit customers.”

OneDayOnly has implemented procedures in its warehouses to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It has enforced social distancing, the wearing of masks by staff, and it has reduced the number of staff on-site to the bare minimum.

Its couriers are also all offering safe non-contact deliveries.

“We are also extremely aware of the need to keep the economy of South Africa going. Stopping an industry that can benefit South Africans because it is felt to be ‘anti-competitive’ right now does not make sense to us at all,” OneDayOnly said.

“There are many industries that are opening up in level 4 that could be considered unfair, but are necessary. We need to open up areas of the economy that can be considered safe.”

“In addition, many brick and mortar retailers have ecommerce sites in place and those that don’t have the liberty to implement this.”

The company said that under level 4 restrictions, its range of available products would be increased marginally, but will still be very restricted.

OneDayOnly


Bidorbuy

Bidorbuy CEO Craig Lubbe told MyBroadband the government should allow ecommerce to return to full operation under COVID-19 alert level 4.

“Ecommerce and logistics operations are well positioned to minimise risk while allowing some relief to an already struggling economy,” Lubbe said.

“Ecommerce is widely recognised as a safe and viable option to deliver goods to consumers during the COVID-19 lockdown.”

“This is evident in every other major economy worldwide.”

“It is baffling that our leaders have been so progressive in listening to best-practice and advice from scientists, but they appear to be ignoring the voice of concerned business,” he said.

Lubbe said that Bidorbuy’s range of available products would be expanded to include consumer electronics, stationery, and educational books under the reduced restrictions.

“The majority of other products outside of essential items will have to wait until their delivery is permitted,” he said.

“We will continue to promote essential products, mobile airtime, and other digital products.”

Lubbe also pointed out the illogical discernment between products such as educational books versus any other type of book in the restrictions.

“It feels misplaced to discern between an ‘educational’ book versus another type of book,” he said.

“We are in a global crisis of health and economy. We don’t have the luxury in deciding what is ‘fair competition’ right now – nothing about COVID-19 is fair.”

“Our leadership should focus on promoting social distancing, minimising transmission, and reducing the need to be in common spaces – in stores,” he added.

“Ecommerce enables all this and more while opening as much of the economy as possible, saving jobs and lives.”


Now read: Lockdown in South Africa – Insights into business impact and full salaries not being paid

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Ecommerce restrictions are a mistake – Online stores