The Tamil Nadu government has announced a complete Covid-19 lockdown from May 24 to May 31 with very limited concessions allowing only essential services such as petrol bunks, pharmacies, and food delivery from restaurants. Fruits and vegetable vendors are permitted to move around in pushcarts around neighbourhoods to sell their wares, a model which was introduced last year by the previous AIADMK government.
All other retailers selling any other product besides the “essentials” have been left out in this extended lockdown, a problem which remains unsolved since the time the first-ever nationwide lockdowns were imposed.
While the extension of lockdown is welcomed by retailers across the board, what is causing enormous dissent and cold feet within the trade is the partiality shown towards a larger section of retailers who contribute significantly to India’s $650 billion per annum retail industry.
Consumers, on the other hand, are feeling the heat as well — to stock up essentials in advance to meet any future emergencies or unfortunate adversities. Leave the ones shopping with credit cards and those who don’t count the last three or four digits in their bank accounts aside, the average working middle class doesn’t hoard grocery and household items beyond their immediate consumption requirements — they neither have such cash flows nor such large pantries at home!
While e-commerce of all sorts has been allowed in Tamil Nadu and across States with prevailing lockdowns, business and trade experts are questioning governments on why they only allow e-commerce and/or home delivery of food items through delivery platforms, but not home delivery by marginal retailers and local shopkeepers.
The marginal retailers, who sell grocery and related products for a living, have been the most impacted in the past 1.5 years. Note that this segment of retailers hardly has a sizeable bank balance, rotate credit from brands they sell and their distributors two to three times per cycle, and have a credit period ranging from 10 to 30 days at most. And they neither have access to bank credit, save for some private funding which is mostly at exorbitant interest rates ranging from 30 to 45 per cent per annum.
Keen on kiranas
While it is absolutely understandable that T-Shirts or home furniture cannot be shopped online for all formats (unless such retailers have an omnichannel model already), grocery products are now available for door delivery, which has been adopted by small Kirana shops for the past few years, especially during the past year of WFH and home-quarantine by many. The most basic grocery shops now offer delivery at the doorstep — some offer instantly while a few bunch up deliveries and send them to consumers in batches. No one is complaining. Payment is not a concern in such delivery modes — both cash, online payment methods are acceptable by consumers as well as retailers.
The paradox doesn’t end there. The e-commerce platforms are allowed to sell (who also stock grocery) and get them delivered along with non-essentials to customers from watches to home improvement — the deliver persons are mostly from the same cohort of delivery teams. In fact, many double up between these start-up platforms and even carry colour-matching t-shirts in their scooters and bags.
It’s a humble plea by a large number of gro-tailers and consumers like us to the Central and State governments to provide support in these terrible times. We are not asking for favours, rather to just carry on with our normal lives, but with “restrictions.”