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How Amazon is scrambling to keep up with customer demand during the coronavirus pandemic

Published Apr 13th, 2020 1:54PM EDT
Coronavirus update
Image: Kathy Willens/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Amazon has faced the toughest challenge to its business model during the coronavirus pandemic, as customers flood the internet retailer with orders and stretch its capacity to the limit.
  • To help alleviate the strain and better handle demand for things like Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market, the company has announced a number of steps including changes to how delivery times are distributed, and it’s also hiring tens of thousands of additional workers.
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The convenience of e-commerce, the fast and free shipping for Prime members, and the seemingly endless selection of products to choose from are among the things that Amazon has trained its customers for years to take for granted. Whatever you wanted, with just a few clicks, it’ll be on your doorstep in a matter of days. That is, until the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic arrived and completely upended people’s expectations about the degree to which they can rely on Amazon, while the internet retailer’s business model has been stretched to the limit thanks to quarantined customers flooding it with orders.

If you try to order a normal product right now — anything from a book to a pair of jeans — chances are Amazon is going to tell you the order can’t be shipped until May. That’s because the company is prioritizing the shipment of essentials during the pandemic — not all of which, by the way, are products you can even order. For example, the company won’t let you order the Purell hand soap at this listing, which carries the following message instead of an “Add to Cart” button: “Prioritized for organizations on the frontlines responding to COVID-19.”

Amazon purposely undercutting its implied promise of speedy delivery is something that would have been regarded as unthinkable in the past — heck, even as recently as January, before the pandemic exploded. That, and more, is a result of the unprecedented surge in demand the company is grappling with, which is continuing to necessitate new steps from the retailer — including new steps announced today, as well as over the weekend.

For one thing, Amazon says it’s hiring for some 75,000 new jobs after already bringing on more than 100,000 workers in the last four weeks as a result of the coronavirus-related explosion in business. “Interested candidates can apply at,” Amazon said in a company blog post. “We know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants, and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis and we welcome anyone out of work to join us at Amazon until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.”

On a related note, Amazon had previously said it expected to spend $350 million to raise employee wages during this time, but it’s now expecting that number to top $500 million. That’s part of a broad range of steps the company is taking behind the scenes to take care of workers, which also includes stepped-up cleaning and safety measures.

As far as the customer-facing portions of its sprawling business footprint, Amazon is racing to add capacity for grocery deliveries from Amazon Fresh and Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market. Along those lines, Amazon says it’s “temporarily asking new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery and pickup customers to sign up for an invitation to use online grocery delivery and pickup.” While the company is promising increased capacity each week and will invite new customers to shop every week, “we still expect the combination of restricted capacity due to social distancing and customer demand will continue to make finding available delivery windows challenging for customers.”

To help mitigate that, Amazon is promising to launch a new feature in the coming weeks that will allow customers to secure time to shop. The feature will give delivery customers a virtual “place in line” and allow Amazon to distribute delivery windows on a first-come, first-served basis.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.