Amazon temporarily discontinues ‘lower-priority’ items; Flipkart suspends all new orders

Amazon said on Tuesday that it is temporarily discontinuing accepting orders for “lower-priority” products in India and prioritizing servicing urgent items such as household staples, health care, and personal safety products as the e-commerce player — along with several of its competitors — grapples with coronavirus outbreak in one of its key overseas markets. Updated at 11:00AM IST, March 25: Flipkart has temporarily suspended all new orders.

“To serve our customers’ most urgent needs while also ensuring safety of our employees, we are temporarily prioritizing our available fulfilment and logistics capacity to serve products that are currently critical for our customers such as household staples, packaged food, health care, hygiene, personal safety and other high priority products,” Amazon said in a statement.

“This also means that we have to temporarily stop taking orders and disable shipments for lower-priority products,” it added. Understandably, the company said it did not have a timeline to share for how long this new measure would last. Amazon has taken a similar approach in the U.S. and Italy.

The move, which goes into effect today, comes as nearly every Indian state has imposed a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Several other players including Flipkart, and grocers Grofers and BigBasket are also facing severe disruptions in their services as they struggle to procure items and deliver it to customers.

(Updated at 20:09PM IST: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address to the nation that entire country will exercise lockdown for 21 days starting from midnight.)

“Our warehouses in cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi NCR have been forced lockdown and delivery partners from our local stores are being turned back. We are working around the clock to support people who are relying highly on our services and are waiting for the essential supplies at their homes,” Albinder Dhindsa, co-founder and chief executive of Grofers, told TechCrunch.

Amazon said it is reaching out to customers who have already placed an order for a lower-priority item and giving them an option to get a full refund.

Meanwhile, Flipkart has suspended all new orders from Tuesday midnight. “We want to first disable taking all orders and then start enabling categories in a sequential manner,” Adarsh Menon, SVP at Flipkart, wrote in an email to employees.

“Flipkart has temporarily suspended orders as we assess the possibilities of operating in the lockdown. We are prioritising the safety of our delivery executives and seeking the support of the local governments and police authorities to meet the needs of our customers as they stay home during this lockdown,” Rajneesh Kumar, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Flipkart, said in a statement.

In certain parts of the country, Amazon has been unable to service essential products, too. State governments have been advised to allow e-commerce deliveries — at least the essential ones — but in many parts of the country, local authorities have yet to follow this advice.

Indian news outlet MediaNama reported on Tuesday that Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, a central government agency, has requested various state governments to allow e-commerce deliveries.

Shops, eateries, banks, schools, and public transport have shut down in most of the Indian states that have enforced a lockdown. Ride-hailing giant Uber and Ola have temporarily discontinued their services in India.

The number of coronavirus-affected patients has surged to over 515 in India, with 10 deaths.