ecommerce-corona

The Novel Coronavirus (nCoV19) outbreak has affected over 75% of the countries in the world since its outbreak in December 2019. The SARS-CoV-2 spreads mostly from person to person through close contact or from droplets that are scattered when a person with the virus sneezes or coughs. This means that the novel coronavirus is highly contagious, which means it spreads easily from person to person. The average incubation period of the virus seems to be around 5 days.

Millions of online shipments exchange hands every day. Right from the supplier to the warehouse staff to the courier delivery boys and finally to the end shopper. This gets multiplied as over 20% of online shipments get returned to the seller causing a much higher threat.

How can Coronavirus COVID19 affect the business and health of E-Commerce Sellers and their employees?

Studies show that its cousin viruses, SARS and MERS, live for a few hours on the surface of an object. They are spread most often by respiratory droplets from one person to another. Besides, no medicine or vaccination has been developed till date to fight this pandemic. The earliest probability of getting one as per various research organizations and scientists is one year from now.

The logistics providers have been experiencing a surge in orders from shoppers who are ordering online, especially after delivery commitments like “Same Day/Next Day” delivery promises from online retailers like Amazon and others. This leaves a certain possibility of the packets being a carrier of the virus from the origin to the shopper. And that’s quite a risk. 

To make matters worse, in the case of buyer returns, the packets come back from thousands of shoppers back to the seller through multiple delivery boys throughout the day, every day.

One theory is that after the outbreak of the pandemic, more people will stay indoor and order online instead of exposing themselves by going out and shopping in physical stores. While this may sound to be a boom for eCommerce sellers, the worry is far bigger.

Ecommerce sellers need to deal throughout the day with warehouse staff and courier staff to ensure timely delivery of orders to buyers.

Now, this poses a serious 2-way threat to eCommerce Sellers. Some of the situations and scenarios which are more akin to the business of eCommerce sellers and safe practices that one should follow are:

PICKING & PACKING

  • DefinitionOrder picking is the process of finding and extracting products from a warehouse to fulfill customer orders.
  • Conventional Practice – On receiving orders, picklists get generated and given to pickers to bring the items from different locations (Racks, Shelves, Bins, etc) of the warehouse to the packing area. Packers would then put the products in various packets/boxes, affix the shipping label, use adhesives and tapes and move to the dispatch area.
  • Hazard Threats
    • One Carrier (Picker) may transmit droplets to locations (Racks, Shelves, etc) from where it could transmit to another carrier in case he goes to the same location.
    • The coronavirus appears able to linger on plastic and steel surfaces for two to three days.
  • Safety Recommendation
    • Clean, sanitize and disinfect all high-touch surfaces and warehouse locations (tables, racks, shelves, bins, light switches, barcode scanners, desks, etc.) 2-3 times a day. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
    • Allow 1 person at a time to go to the warehouse location for picking and once he has picked the items, he should wash hands and/or apply sanitizer every time after the picking.
    • Ensure people wear safety mask especially those who are commuting through public transport. An added precaution would be that pickers wear disposable safety gloves and discard them properly at the end of every day.
precautions coronavirus
Picklist for safety precautions for e-commerce sellers

DISPATCH

  • Definition – Dispatch is the activity performed when the goods have to be delivered to the customer(s) or handed over to the courier
  • Conventional Practice – Once all packed items are kept in the dispatch area, they get physically handed over to various courier/delivery boys
  • Hazard Threats
    • The delivery boys from the courier company may be potential carriers of the virus.
    • In case any employee is infected, the virus could get transmitted through the surface of the packages.
  • Safety Recommendation
    • Keep courier wise packets in a separate area with a large display tag containing the dispatch information (Manifest IDs, no. of packets, courier name, etc.) so that the person coming to pick up the shipments can identify his consignments.
    • Keep a drop-box where the receiving person can leave the signed acknowledgments of the picked-up consignment receipts.
    • Wear masks when engaging with the external courier/delivery boys who have come to pick up the consignments.
    • Clean, sanitize and disinfect the dispatch area at the end of every day once all the consignments have been picked up.

RECEIVING RETURNS OR PURCHASED ITEMS

  • Definition – Inwarding is the process of physically receiving the products into the warehouse either from a supplier or through a customer/courier returns and doing a putaway into the warehouse locations.
  • Conventional Practice – Returns and purchased items are physically received and inward almost immediately when they land in the warehouse.
  • Hazard Threats
    • Returned packets may be a carrier of the virus through the person who has delivered them
  • Safety Recommendation
    • Keep a distinct covered area in the warehouse where the senders can keep the stock and a drop-box where they can leave the documents. Ask for suppliers to send a copy of the documents electronically to verify and respond with confirmation electronically. Mention the reason for doing this in the electronic email.
    • Disinfect all returns received
    • Wash hands every time after receiving returns and doing the putaway.
    • Since the virus lingers just for a few hours on the surface, it is advisable to make physical contact with the packets after 3-4 hours of their landing in the warehouse.

The safety of our business is in our hands. These small and simple steps will help us combat coronavirus. These will protect our business and the health and well-being of our employees.