Kim Reid, CEO of South Africa’s largest online retailer, Takealot.com, has made an impassioned plea to government to allow unfettered e-commerce and food delivery as a way of getting the economy going again.
In a podcast interview with TechCentral on Wednesday (watch or listen to the discussion below), Reid said: “If you look at what’s happened elsewhere in the world, e-commerce has pretty much been trading at full throttle.”
He said the Chinese government, for example, actively encouraged that country’s biggest commerce retailers to deliver services in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.
Watch the video interview with Kim Reid:
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Not only will unfettered e-commerce allow South Africa’s economy to start growing again during the lockdown, but will also help contain the spread of the coronavirus given it discourages consumers from visiting physical stores where their chances of contracting the virus and spreading it are significantly heightened, Reid said.
Takealot resumed trading a few days after the lockdown began on 27 March, but it is prohibited from selling anything other than essential goods, as defined in government regulations. As a result, its revenue has fallen by between 80% and 90%, he said. Its Superbalist business, which sells apparel, is prohibited from trading, while Mr D Food has begun limited deliveries, including for the MediRite pharmacy chain owned by Shoprite.
However, he said even selling only essential goods through Takealot has been enough to help the online retailer to some extent. “If you have made the decision to keep all staff on board, any revenue makes sense… We have largely become a face mask and hand sanitiser business,” he said.
Takealot continues to pay all its staff and is “trying to mitigate the losses as best we can”. However, it will not be able to continue doing so indefinitely.
If there is a further extension of the lockdown, without a significant relaxation of the rules, Reid said the impact will be deeply negative. “We have our sights set on starting to operate as we normally do on the Monday after the second lockdown. It would be insane not to open e-commerce at that time. I can’t see how any government cannot open e-commerce at that time to get at least part of the economy going again.”
Takealot has approached several government ministers, whom it has lobbied to have e-commerce fully operational again as soon as possible. But he said the company has made only limited progress in this regard so far, in part because the ministers “have other priorities” to focus on.
“Government needs to start considering the fact that e-commerce may be a small part of this market, but it is a way to start getting the economy going.” — © 2020 NewsCentral Media