People can't go out, and they can't get home deliveryOnline stores are confused about providing service due to lack of clear guidelines from the government regarding e-commerce.
Covid-positive Sanup Maharjan and his five-member family, who caught the infection from him, have been in home isolation for the past 10 days. They have been trying to buy groceries online for days, but every store they have called has turned them away saying they have a huge backlog of orders.
“Since we are all in self-quarantine, I have tried to place an order for essentials with different online grocery stores. But they all say they might not be able to deliver on time, and also that we live out of the way," Maharjan told the Post. The 33-year-old lives in Budhanilkantha.
“We did not worry about being able to buy the things we needed because we thought it would be like during the lockdown last year. At that time, online stores had made it easy to buy goods safely by remaining at home. And we thought it would be the same this time too,” he said.
But that was not the case. A hapless Maharjan asked relatives living nearby to buy food for him, and leave the packages on his doorstep. He paid for the purchases through e-wallet.
Like Maharjan, many coronavirus patients who cannot go out to do their shopping are in big trouble after not being able to get daily essentials.
Online stores are confused about providing service due to lack of clear guidelines from the government regarding ecommerce. They deliver to a very limited number of places, and also only at certain times. This has made life difficult for both sellers and buyers.
When the government issued the first prohibitory order that went into effect on April 29, it did not say anything about the kind of goods online stores would be allowed to deliver, the delivery times, or the type of vehicle or commuter permit for their staff, industry sources said.
When the lockdown was extended for two weeks from May 13, the government did not say anything about the operation of online sales either.
The chief district officer said that since coronavirus infections were spreading rampantly throughout the country, they had decided to tighten restrictions and allow only limited essential services to operate.
Sagar Dev Bhatta, co-founder of online grocery store Merokirana.com, said, “Every two to three days, we stop taking orders so that we can fill them,” he said.
The E-Business Association of Nepal had made a written request to the government on April 28 to ease operations during the lockdown. But it has not heard anything from the government yet. “We do not understand why the government is not able to see the advantage of online delivery,” Bhatta said.
Anil Basnet, founder and chief executive officer at Metrotarkari.com that sells vegetables, meat products and dairy and other farm products online, said that their online platform was receiving more than 300 orders daily, especially from people who are in home isolation and cannot go out to buy essentials.
“Out of the more than 300 orders, we are filling 12-15 orders daily from nearby places, and that also only till 9 am. We are receiving more orders from people who have tested positive and are in home isolation, and really need our service,” Basnet told the Post.
Bhatta said that the whole supply chain had been disrupted due to which it takes four to five days to fill an order, and only a few customers are able to receive the service.
“As everyone is trying to provide their best possible service at this difficult hour, it feels bad when we are not able to deliver essential food items to people’s doorsteps who are desperately seeking our service, as in many houses whole families have become infected,” he said.
“Demand for online service is high during this lockdown compared to last year because people are confident about the service provided by e-retailers,” Bhatta told the Post. "There are less chances of spreading infections using home delivery, and the international practice also shows the same as e-commerce firms were allowed to operate amid the pandemic in most countries."
Basnet said that there was no working environment, and that they had been facing problems delivering goods since the first day of the lockdown. “There is no support from the local administration and related government bodies,” he added.
"Not only has the delivery part been impacted, there are also problems when collecting vegetables from different farms. Farmers are worried that their vegetables which are ready for market will rot in the fields due to transportation problems," Basnet said.
"The government does not have any vision to keep up with the supply chain at the time of a crisis," said e-commerce entrepreneurs.
"We are ready to provide service by following all safety protocols; and if the government doubts our commitment, they can make field inspections. Learning from last year's lockdown, we are fully aware of safety provision," online traders said.
According to e-commerce entrepreneurs, not only business owners and customers, but their staff too could suffer due to the chaotic environment.
“We have asked our employees to be ready to deliver orders during the lockdown, but with limited delivery, it will be difficult for us to pay their salaries,” Basnet added.
"The police administration is still stopping vehicles making their delivery rounds," Bhatta said. "The government has justified this saying that if home delivery is allowed, it will increase traffic on the roads."
Ecommerce entrepreneurs are holding discussions with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies to allow the service, but there has been no result.
Maharjan said, “It will be a blessing for people like us if the government allows online stores to operate so that we can safely buy daily essentials on time and safely.”