South Africa’s COVID-19 alert level 4 restrictions will continue to impact businesses severely, including sectors which operate with minimal human contact.
Courier companies, ecommerce businesses, and logistics operators have all been impacted negatively by the lockdown, and there will be little change from level 5 to level 4 for these companies.
Many courier companies and online stores have therefore called on the government to relax restrictions related to online purchases and the delivery of goods.
They argue that couriers have implemented stringent measures to minimise the risk of transmission and that encouraging people to shop online will reduce traffic to physical stores where they are at a higher risk of being infected.
MyBroadband spoke to courier and logistics companies in South Africa to determine how they felt about the new restrictions, and what would change from 1 May 2020 for them.
ParcelNinja CEO Justin Drennan said the company has been open for the last three weeks to deliver essential items.
“The change to level 4 has little impact for us, in that we’ve been working throughout this time – however, compliance, and ensuring worker safety, has a variety of components, which we’ve been managing,” Drennan said.
He added that after the implementation of level 4, there should be an increase in deliveries as the scope of essential products is widened.
“We are able to facilitate more deliveries and we are busy in the process of ascertaining which clients this will affect.”
“Complexity arises when companies sell both compliant and non-compliant products, and to ensure that we only process the correct items,” Drennan added.
“The same applies to orders which contain mixed products. Customers need to know and understand the processes around mixed deliveries and potential delays.”
When it comes to the restrictions imposed on the ecommerce sector, Drennan said that ecommerce is perfectly positioned to aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I share the sentiment echoed by Andy Higgins and Kim Reid in that ecommerce is perfectly positioned for this and is able to do contactless deliveries,” Drennan said.
“As long as operations are tightly managed, and compliance adhered to, deliveries could be taking place, limiting the discomfort people are feeling at home while still adhering to social distancing.”
“Abroad, ecommerce has always remained open, and this approach of ‘fairness’ related to bricks-and-mortar versus online needs to be revisited,” he said.
The Courier Guy
The Courier Guy MD Stephen Gleisner said the shift from level 5 to level 4 will have no real impact on the courier industry as it has only called for the return of the construction, mining, fishing, forestry, automotive, and winter clothing industries.
“Besides the addition of hot food, tobacco, and winter clothing, the other items were available in level 5 as support to essential services working from home,” he said.
“Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel has stated the opening of the ecommerce sector would be unfair competition practices towards retail stores who cannot operate.”
“What of the restaurants with no delivery or online infrastructure competing with the restaurants who do have this infrastructure?” he said.
“Retail stores need to adapt and reinvent themselves as brick-and-mortar as well as ecommerce stores.”
He added that The Courier Guy has implemented COVID-19 health and safety procedures and is continuously looking for ways to improve on these and protect staff and customers that return to the marketplace.
“We have ample capacity to facilitate more deliveries as we have the workforce and infrastructure waiting to be reintroduced into the growing the economy,” he said.
The Courier Guy is also one of more than 4,000 ecommerce and logistics companies which have sent a letter to Patel raising their concerns about the level 4 restrictions.
“Ecommerce has been widely recognised, worldwide, as the ‘go-to channel’ to deliver goods to consumers during the COVID-19 lockdown,” Gleisner said in the petition.
“The motivation is simple – ecommerce promotes social distancing, is hygienic and safe, can be accessed by mobile phone and computer – and can deliver any product to a home without restriction.”
“It keeps people away from physical stores while at the same time allowing them access to all goods.”
RAM told MyBroadband that it was still waiting for the regulations to be published so that it could determine its strategy going forward.
“We are aware that the government has drafted a framework for the risk-adjusted strategy to bring different sectors of the economy under level 4 of the lockdown back to work as announced by the President,” RAM said.
“We further understand that in implementing the risk-adjusted strategy, the National Coronavirus Command Council and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 intend to sequence and phase in key sectors and priority areas with a view to deepening the fight against COVID-19 whilst simultaneously rebuilding our economy.”
“Our position is that we follow government legislation and hence we are not in a position to comment on government policy in relation to ecommerce, particularly due to the fact that we are not party to any ministerial advisory committee and cannot give our view on the public health ramifications should ecommerce be opened up,” the company said.
RAM said that in anticipation of amended regulations, it has prepared and implemented various protocols to ensure the safe delivery of goods to customers.