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How e-commerce firms are gearing up to tackle the Omicron threat

How e-commerce firms are gearing up to tackle the Omicron threat

At a time when cases of the new Omicron variant are rising in the country, India's e-commerce sector is gearing up to meet the challenges, especially those aimed at buttressing its supply-chain and logistics network.

E-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart have already invested heavily in strengthening their warehousing capabilities E-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart have already invested heavily in strengthening their warehousing capabilities

At a time when the cases of the new Omicron variant are rising in the country, India's e-commerce sector is gearing up to meet the challenges, especially those aimed at buttressing its supply-chain and logistics network. Some of the leading players, as well as a few niche companies operating in this space, told BusinessToday.In that a full vaccination of its delivery workforce, coupled with an expansion of its logistics arms to Tier-2, 3 and smaller towns, would prove crucial in order to ensure business continuity amidst the scare. And in this, the two e-commerce giants -- Amazon and Flipkart -- have already invested heavily in strengthening their warehousing capabilities. These two firms have also expanded their logistic hubs to Tier-2 and Tier-3 towns, and have also tried to shore up their last-mile connectivity prowess, especially after the devastating second wave of the pandemic earlier this year.

Amazon, talking exclusively to BusinessToday.In, pointed out that it regards the safety of its customers, and also that of the team of e-tailers it has on its platform, continues to be the company's top priority. It added that Amazon seeks to be fully complaint with global WHO norms, and has ensured its delivery partners are all fully vaccinated.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, we have implemented a series of preventative health measures for employees, associates, and partners. As a marketplace, we continue to exercise all precautions and work closely with our seller partners, and empower our delivery network to safely delivery these packages pan India. In line with our efforts to ensure the health & safety of our teams, we have made vaccination a ready choice for all of our employees, associates, partners, sellers and their dependents. We continue to be customer focused, and ensure adherence of all norms," said Manish Tiwari, Vice President, Amazon India.

Similarly, Flipkart too pointed out that the company is working to achieve a fully vaccinated supply-chain workforce. "Currently, a significant proportion of our supply-chain workforce has been vaccinated and we are aggressively working towards achieving a fully vaccinated workforce," a spokesperson from Flipkart said.

The Walmart-owned e-commerce giant added that since the onset of the pandemic last year, it has been undertaking strict hygiene measures and have conducted relevant training schedules for its employees, all in line with the guidelines announced by the WHO, and the Indian government. "Through a well sanitised supply-chain, initiatives such as contact-less deliveries and a healthy and safe last-mile delivery process, we're ensuring safety for all. We continue to partner with multiple ecosystem players to ensure timely delivery of essentials at our consumers' doorsteps in the most hygienic and safe manner," Flipkart said.

But industry insiders, in particular those operating from B2B logistics platforms, note that just by focusing on hygiene and initiatives like contact-less delivery won't be sufficient. They argue that investments in the localised logistics network could prove to be a crucial determinant to ensure a smooth supply-chain operation, especially in the eventuality of cases spiking and subsequent restrictions on mobility being put in place.

"During the entire period of COVID-19, till date, digital B2B e-commerce platforms like Solv have helped keep supply chains running by ensuring goods reach the buyers on time. [But also by] ensuring seamless procurement from reliable sellers (MSMEs themselves), on ground logistics support through local networks, and providing on-demand working capital assistance (Buy-Now-Pay-Later) & helping them overcome any cash flow problems they may have had during this period," said Amit Bansal, CEO of B2B e-commerce marketplace, Solv.

He noted that during the recent lockdown following the second wave, when shops selling essential goods were allowed to operate between 6:00 am and 10:00 am, his firm was able to quickly pivot to opening its transit hubs at 2:00 am, so that goods could be transported early and could reach the stores by 6:00 am, allowing them to serve their customers uninterrupted.

"More than 100,000 small business owners across the country, particularly from the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector who have digitised their businesses and are now buying from Solv, speak in one voice about the benefits they have accrued during a critical period- when keeping self & family safe as well as keeping the business running were paramount for these micro & small entrepreneurs. We will continue to invest in building Solv for MSMEs of India and encourage more businesses to join the B2B ecommerce revolution to grow their businesses and livelihoods," he said.

The delivery timelines, which have seen an accelerated competition over the past few months, will also be an emerging challenge for tech-logistics platforms.

 "We launched delivery operations in the middle of the pandemic and delivered to COVID-19 patients and impacted families. In 9 months, we have grown 1500 per cent, hence the outbreak of this pandemic has given us an opportunity to solve the challenges of multiple brands. We are aware of this new variant,  Omicron, and in case of a virus spread, we shall extend complete support to various brands in scaling and getting the products in the hands of users safe and fast. Most importantly, we are sector agnostic and deliver anything which is legal and lawful," argues Abhishek Kaushik, Co-Founder, Hanchens, a same-day logistics platform for B2C and D2C brands.

He added that the safety of customers and riders is of prime importance, and in a situation of a breakout, they would be prompt to limit the rider contact with users by encouraging brands to promote a non-cash-on-delivery orders, deliver contactless, deploy double vaccinated fleet with daily temperature check and also deliver with PPE kits in specific clusters.

"Though the situation might be unpredictable at this juncture, but we are well-prepared to continue and expand operations smoothly and as per guidelines issued by various state and central agencies without any impact to brands and customers.," Kaushik said.

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