COVID-19 crisis: Not the time to play digital versus brick-and-mortar

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Published: April 21, 2020 5:15 AM

The crisis is not the time to play up the digital versus brick-and-mortar divide.

The home ministry had allowed listed e-commerce companies to operate from April 20, with the condition that their “vehicles ... will be allowed to ply with necessary permissions.”The home ministry had allowed listed e-commerce companies to operate from April 20, with the condition that their “vehicles … will be allowed to ply with necessary permissions.”

At a time when a balance between the need for COVID-19 lockdowns and the impact these will have on the economy is needed, the government reversing its April 15 notification that allowed e-commerce companies to resume sale of non-essential items seems to have little to do with the public health aspect of allowing only essential services. It comes against the background of the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) having petitioned various central ministries, including MHA, to bar the sale of non-essential items by e-retailers to ensure parity with non-essential (chiefly electronic goods) brick-and-mortar retailers that remain subject to the lockdown.

The home ministry had allowed listed e-commerce companies to operate from April 20, with the condition that their “vehicles … will be allowed to ply with necessary permissions.” This was interpreted to mean full range of services provided by e-tailers. However, commerce minister Piyush Goyal justified the limiting of this to essential goods only in the interest of a level playing field for brick-and-mortar. Competition regulators around the world are having to prioritise supply-chains remaining functional. The crisis is not the time to play up the digital versus brick-and-mortar divide. The decision leaves many goods that could facilitate remote working with no link at the retail end.

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