As Karnataka goes into a 14-day lockdown on April 27 at 9 pm, online and offline retailers say that they have enough supplies of essentials for now and have urged people not to hoard or overstock.
With COVID-19 cases spiralling, the state government announced a 14-day lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of infection, even as the healthcare infrastructure is coming under severe strain, with people struggling to procure beds, medicine, and oxygen.
During this period, shops selling groceries, fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat will be opened from 6 am to 10 am. While delivery of all items through e-commerce and home delivery will be allowed, autos and taxis (including cab aggregators) will only be allowed for travel related to an emergency purpose. Movement for the purpose of vaccination and testing will be allowed with minimal proof, according to the guidelines.
"Panic buying is causing all the problem, there is enough availability of essentials. People just need to buy what they need and not over-stock. We have cut back on the range and have kept essentials as a priority. The number of SKUs (stock-keeping units) is down from 40,000 to 13,000 as we are cutting back on long-tail and focussing on fast-moving items. We also have a token system. If slots are not available, you will get a token that will tell you to log in on a date a day or so away, and you will get a slot on the suggested day," Hari Menon, co-founder, and CEO of online grocer BigBasket told Moneycontrol.
At the same time, Amazon in a statement to Moneycontrol said, "We appreciate the Government of Karnataka for allowing e-commerce and enabling home deliveries of all products thereby ensuring varied customer needs are safely fulfilled during this critical period. Customers in Karnataka can continue to shop for all their needs on Amazon and stay safe indoors."
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Menon said, unlike last year, delivery staff was not leaving the city or migrating to different states as there is no national lockdown but there is worry as more people are falling ill because of the virus. As a result, BigBasket has set up centres to take care of its staff and also plans to ramp up its hiring plans to ensure it has a bench to cope with the demand.
Users of apps such as BigBasket and Swiggy's Instamart said they were unable to place orders minutes after the lockdown was announced. People Moneycontrol spoke to said this wasn't because of any supply issue but because of the massive surge that these platforms saw.
Offline vegetable shops in various parts of Bengaluru were also running out of stock on April 26 and so were milk supplies by late evening. Senthil, who was manning a store, said, “People are buying in dozens in fear that supplies might not be available. This is despite me telling them that I will be open the full day tomorrow (April 27) and supplies will be restocked.”
It was the same with Lokesh, who delivers milk every evening to the apartments locally. “People were buying more than they used and there was not enough stock to deliver. So we had to procure additional supply for delivery,” he said.
A day later, the shops have restocked and panic buying at least is under control.
Prema*, who is a milk distributor for 20 years in Bengaluru, said, they have made additional orders for milk to cater to the demand considering that they will be open only till 10 am. The shop had run out of milk and other dairy products the day before evening.
Grocery stores and vegetable vendors too are sufficiently stocked. The proprietor of Nagaraj Stores in Bengaluru, which sells groceries and FMCG products, said, “Unlike last year, we don’t see huge issues related to supply. Yes, people are buying more than they should and a few items are running out faster than usual,” she said.
For instance, atta, instant noodles, and biscuits have run out of supply by noon. But the shop was able to restock them a couple of hours later.
Vegetable vendors too are not worried about the supply. However, the time limit between 6 am and 10 am is likely to hurt the business, say smaller vendors.
Muthu, a vegetable vendor, said, “Supply is not an issue. But selling them between 6 am and 10 am will limit the business, especially since we have started seeing a turnaround.”
Prema, who also owns a small Kirana store along with the milk distribution business, is worried. According to her, she has trouble placing orders. “Since last week, none of our distributors is willing to take orders. If they do, they want to be compensated immediately due to uncertainty,” she says.
The shop has already run out of supplies such as biscuits, eggs, and soaps. “We are unable to stock them. This was no different from how it was a year ago,” Prema pointed out.
“Even though we have been running this shop for 20 years, for distributors the priority is bigger players. We are well below their focus. This is going to hurt our business again,” she lamented.The lockdown, which will start from the night of April 27, will last till the early hours of May 12. The 9 pm- 6 am curfew, which is already there, will continue. While some say that Karnataka had no choice but to lock down as cases were shooting up, others believe that it should have started with a one-week lockdown and extended this if needed.