Telcos, mobile handset retailers await state clarity for opening outlets

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New Delhi/Mumbai: Mobile phone operators, handset retailers and electronics retail chains are awaiting guidelines from state governments before opening their stores in red zones as they buckle up to resume operations in orange and green districts from Monday.

An executive from a private telco said that while operators had opened up some of their shops in the green zones, as per earlier directives, they are now reaching out to nodal officers and state authorities to get a clear picture on whether they can open in orange zones and outside the containment areas of red zones.

“We are awaiting information from the different states for clarity. We have not received that as yet and we do not want to get into a compliance issue or get penalised, so will not open shops till states give us the nods on their zones,” said an executive from another telco.

Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, the three private telcos, did not respond to ET’s emailed queries. The government is easing lockdown curbs starting Monday, depending on the number of Covid-19 cases and other indicators in a district.

The focus is on opening retail locations to serve those who have feature phones and need to recharge, said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents the three private companies.

“Our members are working with local authorities to ensure these locations are opened in conformity with the MHA (ministry of home affairs) guidelines,” Mathews said.

Handset retailers also face a similar situation.

Vijay Sales, which runs electronics showrooms at 88 locations, expects to open in Andhra Pradesh, Surat and Vadodara. Its remaining stores, including those in Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, fall in red zones and are awaiting permission.

“The government has allowed certain activities in the red zones, also for areas which fall out of containment. So, I think we will get clarification from local authorities on Monday,” said Nilesh Gupta, founder of Vijay Sales.

Red zones are districts worst affected by coronavirus cases, while green zones are those that have no cases. Orange districts are those with fewer cases than red zones.

“There are two Croma stores operational as of now – in Goa and Nadiad (Gujarat),” said Ritesh Ghosal, chief marketing officer. “But we are working towards opening standalone stores as per government guidelines across the nation starting May 4 in a phased manner.”

The Tata-owned electronics retail chain owns 150+ stores across over 45 cities and has an online presence as well.

Reliance Digital, which has almost 200 stores, said it is still assessing the government’s guidelines.

Independent handset retailers are better positioned to get back to work as the home ministry has allowed non-essential utilities to function between 7 am and 7 pm, including “all standalone (single) shops, neighbourhood (colony) shops and shops in residential complexes.”

“Now that we have clarity as to which stores are allowed to open, we will resume business following the government’s directives on social distancing with limited staff,” said Arvinder Khurana, president of the All Indian Mobile Retailer Association, which represents 150,000 independent handset shops.

Experts estimate about 5 million smartphones are lying unsold in the offline channel.

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