Online sellers demand clear operating rulesThe government should also revise the definition of essential items as it has become obsolete, ecommerce entrepreneurs said.
As parts of Nepal go into a fresh lockdown triggering an online shopping rush, sellers urged the government to create a clear modality to allow them to operate at a time when the public needs their services more.
The government in its latest prohibitory orders has not said anything about the kind of goods ecommerce platforms will be allowed to deliver, delivery times, type of delivery vehicles or commuter permit for their staff, according to industry sources.
Ecommerce offers ease of shopping and payment, and most importantly, contact-less delivery which is just what the country needs now, insiders said. Many ecommerce platforms have upgraded their digital presence to ensure safety for their customers and staff as they have been witnessing a rise in online shopping.
“We were expecting the government to come up with a decision for operating the ecommerce sector. But there is nothing in the decision,” said Surakchya Adhikari, chief operating officer and co-founder of online supermarket Thulo.Com. “We are still in a ‘wait and watch’ situation,” she said.
A cabinet meeting on Monday decided to put the Kathmandu Valley under lockdown from Thursday morning for two weeks.
The government said that providers of essential services like ambulance, drinking water, health, food items, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, banking, telecommunication, internet and garbage collection would be able to operate their vehicles by displaying a sign stating the type of service.
Grocery stores are allowed to open till 10 in the morning and from 5-7 in the evening. The opening hours for department stores are from 10 am to 5 pm.
Food sellers, grocery stores, pharmacies and other providers of essential services are required to follow the health protocols set by the government, officials said.
“As the coronavirus is spreading rampantly throughout the country, the risk has become greater, so we have decided to tighten restrictions and are allowing only limited essential services to operate,” said Chief District Officer Kali Prasad Parajuli.
“We just came to know about the concerns of ecommerce firms, and we are currently holding discussions and will reach a decision soon.” Parajuli told the Post that the government would strictly enforce the rule to remain indoors.
With no clear orders for ecommerce, online entrepreneurs said they were confused about how to continue their services from Thursday.
They said they had expected the government to come up with a decision promptly, learning from past experience and realising the importance of the home delivery system amid the pandemic.
Adhikari said that customers were also unsure about whether they should order things from online sellers or not.
“We faced problems while conducting business during the lockdown last year due to lack of coordination between the chief district officers, traffic administration and related ministries,” said Amun Thapa, founder of Sastodeal.
"This time too there is no clear decision, and not only the sellers but customers too will face problems as they will be deprived of getting service on time."
Ecommerce entrepreneurs said that the government should also revise the definition of essential items as it has become obsolete.
"Food items are not the only essential things at this time," Thapa said. "As many educational institutions are running online classes, stationery products including laptops and smartphones have become essential items for students."
Thapa added that since many office employees now work from home, they also have different needs according to the nature of their work.
"The government has set a time window for grocery stores and department stores, but ecommerce firms will not be able to deliver goods punctually during such time windows," he said.
"During the last lockdown, the government had not allowed deliveries to be made by two-wheeler. If such restrictions are placed again, it will be difficult to make deliveries."
Thapa said, "The government has talked about commuting rules for employees of banks and media houses, but it has not said anything about ecommerce personnel. Our staff need to be present to operate and manage the logistics."
Online entrepreneurs have met with the chief district officers to talk about the government's vague rules.
“We thought that the government had understood the importance of ecommerce, but now we feel that it has not realised this as the sector has not been prioritised,” he said.
Sastodeal has partnered with state-owned Food Management and Trading Company to deliver its food items.
Online demand for fast moving consumer goods like foods, beverages, toiletries, candies, dried goods, over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics and other consumable goods has jumped especially after the nationwide lockdown last year.
“We are expecting a surge in demand from internet shoppers during the lockdown,” Adhikari said. "With the spike in coronavirus caseloads in recent weeks, orders for groceries have started increasing of late."