COVID-19 is an infectious disease which was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The outbreak was later declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, when it spread all over the world resulting in the ongoing pandemic. In this article we will discuss ecommerce role in such situations.
Owing to the contagious nature of the disease, countries all over the world enforced lockdown in different phases and also ordered all the non-essential businesses to close down. This was done to limit public gatherings, that is, to ensure ‘social distancing’. This lockdown meant restrictions on people’s movement.
People could no longer just go out for a ‘grocery run’ whenever. Initially, people responded to this news by stocking up on essential items such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants, surgical face masks and non-perishable food items.
However, as the restrictions in movement were made stricter and several local brick-and-mortar stores closed down; people had to resort to online shopping.
Ecommerce in the simplest terms refers to buying and selling of goods and services online. According to a report by the World Trade Organisation on ‘E-Commerce, Trade and the COVID-19 Pandemic’, the enforcement of these lockdowns has driven people to stock up on goods using online shopping websites. There has also been an exponential increase in the “use of social media, internet telephony and teleconferencing, and streaming of videos and films.”
Role of E-Commerce
E-commerce has a crucial role to play in this pandemic. The retail giants of China rose to the occasion when the local stores in Wuhan closed down. Alibaba in particular, was the first to move.
They identified and contacted all viable manufacturers and reopened plants in less than 48 hours over the Chinese New Year to mass produce N95 masks.
Furthermore, in challenging times like these, ecommerce is not only helping in ensuring social distancing but also in providing jobs to many people. Amazon hiring 175,000 new associates is one such example.
Several measures and actions have also been taken by various governments internationally to facilitate ecommerce in the fight against coronavirus.
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The Medical Council of India in partnership with NITI Aayog released guidelines for telemedicine to aid medical practitioners in providing healthcare online.
As mentioned before, several brick-and-mortar stores are closed so many of them are moving to online platforms to continue business and many of these companies are providing extended services.
So, to help their citizens connect with these opportunities; the government in Italy instituted a website containing a list of such companies.
The local governments of several countries in Africa have compiled and circulated a list of suppliers of groceries, medicines and other essential items via social media to ensure continuous supply. People can then order their groceries by giving a call to one of those numbers.
With everything now going digital, the need for data naturally increases. So, several telecommunication companies are providing data at minimal costs. Central banks have also asked commercial banks to lower if not scrap the online transactional fee to encourage more and more people to use e-payment services.
Challenges associated with e-commerce
While ecommerce is a great tool helping people in these trying times, it also has its own set of challenges. A sudden surge in the number of consumers now shopping online leads to disruptions in supply and demand causing delays and cancellation of orders.
Some other ecommerce challenges such as product safety concerns, traders engaging in unscrupulous and unfair trade practices, price gouging, etc have also been amplified amidst the pandemic.
Consumer protection is a major concern. There have been cases where traders have charged exceptionally high prices or supplied defected goods (hand sanitizers, disinfectants, masks) to consumers.
In such cases regulating and ensuring that the suppliers are in compliance with health and safety standards becomes difficult.
This pandemic has also highlighted the importance of a digital economy. It has raised important questions such as the extent to which small businesses can benefit from the opportunities that ecommerce has to offer.
Many of the conventional challenges to a business such as access to online payment services, proper internet and electricity connection, problems associated with acquiring a new customer have also been amplified during this crisis.
The outbreak of the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has clearly become one of the most defining and significant moments of 2020.
E-commerce has played a crucial role in ensuring social distancing by decreasing the need for face-to-face interactions and thus reducing the number of new cases. It has served as an essential pillar in the fight against COVID-19.
The ecommerce market of India was predicted to reach the goal of 200 billion USD by the year 2026, according to a market research done prior to the pandemic but recent trends suggest that that goal might be achieved sooner.
Hence, it is evident that this crisis will have a significant and lasting impact on the private sector and consumer behaviour. It is the government’s responsibility to do their best to support the e-commerce industry so that they in turn can do their best to help in this global health and economic crisis.