At the best of times, we turn to e-commerce to shop for everything from electronics to groceries. This year, some 175 million Indians are expected to shop online, a 46% jump from 2018, according to India Brand Equity Foundation. With the entire country locked down at home, trying to curb the spread of a pandemic, that projection could prove low as our reliance on e-commerce firms has grown. In turn, there is no better time for these companies to rope in new customers.
India first observed a self-imposed quarantine on Sunday, 21 March. Then, the central government imposed a nationwide lockdown from 25 March to 15 April, which was subsequently extended to 3 May. During this period, retailers, both offline and online, were permitted to sell only essentials. E-commerce firms soon became a lifeline for those too afraid to venture out to the local mom-and-pop stores that remained open.
Amazon and Flipkart, as well as pure-play e-grocers like Bigbasket and Grofers, witnessed a 2-3X surge in orders, as The Ken reported earlier earlier The Ken With orders surging 2-3X after the lockdown was imposed, Amazon and Flipkart have stepped up their grocery game Read more . Everything, from perishables like milk and vegetables to non-perishables like flour and oil, was flying off the e-shelves. There were also major stumbles, from companies struggling to get state-level permissions to operate warehouses, to their delivery personnel being harassed and beaten up by police. Supply trucks and cargo were stuck in limbo, and confusion reigned supreme even around what constituted an “essential” product.
However, news reports and anecdotal evidence suggested that during this period, e-commerce firms charged more, while most products went out of stock. We wanted to see if we could quantify this. To do so, we needed reliable data on the availability and prices of essential products on the websites of the four biggest e-commerce companies in India. So, we partnered with e-commerce analytics platform Dataweave.
Dataweave analysed the websites of Amazon, Flipkart, Bigbasket and Grofers. They tracked the prices and availability of more than 25,000 unique stock-keeping units (divided into nine categories) across 30 Indian cities over three periods:
- From 25 March to 15 April, covering the initial three-week lockdown
- From 25 March to 27 April, covering the extended five-week lockdown
- Over January and February, 2020, which was used as a baseline
Here are the major trends we gleaned from the data.
Inventory problems ease as lockdown goes on
During the first 22 days of the lockdown—from 25 March through 15 April— these four companies combined had about 74% of their products out of stock.