Online shopping is open for business – here are the new rules

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Wednesday the 13th of May, Trade, Industry & competition minister Ebrahim Patel has announced new regulations that – under the auspices of a level 4 lockdown or lower – will enable online retailers and e-commerce outlets to finally open virtual doors and begin offering their full online shopping catalogue sans the ability to sell alcohol or cigarettes.

The news is a reversal of Patel’s recent stance, in which the minister previously declined requests for e-commerce ventures to open at full capacity during the national lockdown under the pretext that doing so would prove anti-competitive to other businesses, such as local spaza shops, which themselves remain unable to sell the entirety of their catalogue.

The announcement follows pressure and potential legal proceedings from various parties – notably, political parties issued their say, with the Democratic Alliance threatening court action to enable online retailers to ship all available goods.

Now, in a new release published in the Government Gazette, the ministry now outlines that “e-Commerce can be a critical enabler to opening the economy through contactless transactions, which can reduce the movement of consumers, and the density of shoppers in retail spaces. Further it can accelerate innovation, support local manufacturing and increase access by the informal market and poorer South Africans.”

For ordinary South Africans, the news brings the ability to now order from a full catalogue of goods from online retailers, as well as host of new rules and regulations surrounding the operation of e-commerce ventures, courier services, as well as how the public interacts when taking delivery of their purchases.

Rules for e-Commerce retailers

The new regulations lay out stringent guidelines for e-commerce retailers and delivery partners; noting that employees may not share face masks, equipment, stationery, utensils or similar items and that health and safety officers must take each employee’s temperatures every four hours after the shift commences.

e-Commerce retailers are requested to keep a record of the temperatures of each of their employees, and an employee whose temperature is 37,5 degrees should be immediately isolated – should a second measurement exceed the same threshold, the employee is to be returned home to self-isolate.

Proudly South African

Interestingly, the newly gazetted regulations provide measures to increase supportive measures available to local businesses. Among them, the ministry advises the e-commerce retailers ‘must give prominence to those goods which are manufactured in the Republic of South Africa” in a bid to limit social and economic hardship.

Notably, that request doesn’t simply stop at which goods are prioritised. The ministry further outlines that retailers are advised to issue multiple payment options for consumers vetted on the risks of transmission. While that will likely rule most cash purchases out of the equation, it remains to be seen which measures retailers may adopt to service more customers. Findings in January 2020 indicated that most South Africans would ideally shop online using a credit card, followed by bank transfer and e-wallet services. A survey by Capitec bank conducted in 2019 found that 45% of surveyed South Africans were prepared to shop cashlessly in future.

Packaging

Additionally, the government has further stipulated guidelines for retailers when packaging shipments – particularly, all retailers will now need to provide written guidelines for customers on how to safely disinfect their goods before use and use collection protocols that reinforce social distancing measures when either collecting or delivering goods from a depot. It remains uncertain at this point as to how retailers may choose to disinfect their goods.

Protocols for courier or delivery services

Given the flourishing courier service industry in South Africa – augmented by recent announcements that local restaurant chains can now offer food and drink through delivery – the ministry has provided tighter guidelines for personnel to follow; namely, that couriers must have their own hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes, which must be refilled daily. Furthermore, delivery personnel must wear a cloth face mask when delivering goods to customers and must maintain at least one and a half metres distance from other courier personnel when collecting goods for delivery.

What to do when taking delivery

Rules for customers stipulate that all persons receiving goods are required to wear a cloth face mask or a homemade item that covers the nose and mouth upon taking delivery, while customers must similarly maintain social distancing measures.

All goods received by customers must furthermore be disinfected in accordance with guidelines published by the National Department of Health and those provided by retailers.

Have your say!

Do you plan to shop online as South Africa’s level 4 lockdown continues? Could you foresee e-commerce playing a greater role in your future after the lockdown ends? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below.