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All online shopping is now allowed again

| Legislation

As of Thursday (15/05/2020)South African online stores may sell any product other than booze and cigarettes under Alert Level 4.

According to new regulations published on Thursday afternoon, e-commerce sites are no longer limited to the small range of items that physical stores may sell – though they (and customers receiving packages) must comply with new requirements to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


The new directions are immediately in effect.

South Africa had been one of the only countries in the world to shut down online e-commerce, apart from the sale of essential goods, during its national Covid-19 lockdown.

E-tailers had been limited to the same limited list of goods legal for bricks-and-mortar retailers to sell. But on Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that restrictions on both retail and e-commerce would be eased for Alert Level 4, even before much of the country moves to Level 3 at the end of May.

Now online shoppers can buy anything again, with only alcoholic drinks and tobacco products still restricted. That will also apply to parts of the country that do not move to Level 3 because of a high rate of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and will continue to apply should South Africa move back up to the present Level 4 again in future.

At the same time, online stores must now promote local goods.

"In order to limit the social and economic hardship caused by the pandemic on local industries and enable consumer choice to support local producers, retailers must give prominence to those goods which are manufactured in the Republic of South Africa," the new rules read.

Online retailers are also require to "provide for as many payment options as possible for consumers, that are based on reducing risks of transmission, and enabling poorer consumers to access delivery services."

In a section of the regulations dealing with definitions, courier services are said to "include the delivery divisions of retailers and delivery services set up by spaza shops and informal traders", pointing to how the government believes poorer consumers may gain effective access to online shopping.

Sanitise what you receive – and wear a mask when you get it.

In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, "retailers must provide written guidelines for customers on how to safely disinfect their goods before use."

Recipients are encouraged to follow that advice, and sanitise everything they receive.

Buyers – "and all residents within the immediate vicinity" are now also required to wear face masks when receiving goods from couriers. 

The new rules met with immediate approval from e-tailers.

"We are very pleased to see that the government has decided to open up e-commerce at Level 4 fully, thank you," said Kim Reid, the CEO of Takealot. "We have been at the forefront of the lobbying process as we believe that it is the safest way to transact at this time. We hope that it is not to late for many small businesses to make up for lost opportunities and save jobs."

In a "background" section to the new regulations, minister of trade, industry and competition Ebrahim Patel describes the benefits of online sales during the pandemic.

"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," the section reads. "Further it can accelerate innovation, support local manufacturing and increase access by the informal market and poorer South Africans."

There is no explanation as to why that had not been true for the previous 48 days of the lockdown.


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