It’s good to be Amazon. At a time when businesses are trying to find their way through the coronavirus pandemic, the online sales juggernaut is moving full steam ahead. Amazon is hiring more new employees, building its own lab in order to test its employees for the coronavirus, and new customers wishing to place a grocery order through Whole Foods or Amazon Prime are winding up on a waitlist.
The most interesting part of all that news is the fact that Amazon is building its own testing lab. It’s a practical approach to managing front line shipping employees who are coming down with the coronavirus. Staff in at least 10 U.S.-based distribution centers have tested positive for the virus. Amazon is having the same problems as others do with getting testing done for its employees. Shutting down its distribution centers would be a worldwide disaster. Shutting down is not an option. Amazon is an essential service in life today, like it or not.
Shutting down the massive Amazon distribution system would be a disaster for tens of millions globally. The company runs more than 175 fulfillment centers with over 150 million square feet of space, including 110 just in North America. And while Amazon was the poster child for the retail apocalypse as little as a few months ago, it’s now an essential component of a socially-distanced supply chain that many who are sheltering in place rely on for delivery of essentials.
The company has started building its own testing lab. It hopes to begin testing employees soon. The answer to protecting employees and keeping business operations going without interruptions is rapid and continuous testing.
“If every person, including people with no symptoms, could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we are all fighting this virus,” a company representative wrote in a blog post. “Those who test positive could be quarantined and cared for, and everyone who tests negative could re-enter the economy with confidence.”
Amazon executives understand that most businesses do not have the ability to just create their own testing labs. The majority of businesses in the United States are small businesses, often mom and pop ventures with limited available capital or personnel. Amazon admits the company doesn’t know how far it can get in its testing venture within a relevant timeframe but it is willing to share anything they learn along the way. Amazon thinks the process will be worth it.
Hiring is up, too, at Amazon. Last month it announced it would hire 100,000 additional workers to meet increased sales demands and those jobs have all been filled. Now an additional 75,000 people will be hired. Amazon is increasing its initial investment in extra staffing of $350 million to over $500 million. The announcement was made yesterday. It comes at a time when millions of people find themselves unemployed due to no fault of their own.
“Today, we are proud to announce that our original 100,000 jobs pledge is filled and those new employees are working at sites across the U.S. helping to serve customers,” Amazon announced on its blog today. “We continue to see increased demand as our teams support their communities, and are going to continue to hire, creating an additional 75,000 jobs to help serve customers during this unprecedented time.”
That’s unprecedented speed, and it comes at a good time for the also unprecedented 16.8 million people who have joined the unemployment ranks in the last three weeks.
The entire country is virtually shut down, and jobs in people-service areas that can’t be done remotely have been laid off in massive numbers: 6.87 million in the week ending March 28; 6.61 million in the week ending April 4.
The question remains – will small businesses now shuttered due to being labeled non-essential during the coronavirus pandemic hunkering down period be able to re-open when the time comes? Will small business owners be able to afford to rehire and pay staff? The longer businesses are closed, the more difficult the re-opening process will be. Huge corporate enterprises like Amazon have the ability to hire and keep expanding while smaller companies are in a very different position.
Grocery store chains and those who provide food to customers are considered essential businesses during the pandemic closures. If you are already an Amazon customer who purchases food through Whole Foods or Amazon Prime, you won’t feel the growing pains of increased demands of online food purchasing but if you are trying to use Amazon for the first time, you will likely be placed on a waiting list. The good old days of instant gratification are gone. Now when customers place an order for groceries, delivery times and dates are no longer available within hours or the same day in many cases. Sometimes the next available delivery slot is days away. Yesterday Amazon announced that in order to keep up with the demands of current customers, new customers will be placed on a waiting list.
The bad news is, things aren’t going to get much better for a while if you’re not already an existing Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods Market customer. That’s because as of today, Amazon is no longer accepting new customers for those grocery delivery services, the company announced in a blog post. Anyone who tries to order groceries through Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods Market who has not previously done so will now be prompted to join a waiting list before they are able to place orders.
There’s no telling how long new customers will have to wait on the waiting list, but the company says it plans to add new capacity each week to grocery deliveries, and the more capacity Amazon has, the more new customers it can allow in to shop online for food.
In addition to the waiting list for new customers, Amazon says it also plans to implement a new tool existing customers can use to grab a virtual “place in line” for delivery time slots. The aim is to more fairly distribute grocery delivery windows by making them available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is currently no time frame as to when customers can expect this new tool to launch.
The longer the coronavirus pandemic is with us, the more difficult it becomes to find some grocery items. It’s difficult for grocers to keep up with basics like eggs and bread, for example. I’ve been pretty lucky in finding what is on my grocery list through online shopping at the local level. I haven’t used Amazon during the pandemic. But, as an Instacart customer, I can vouch for longer waits for delivery times and dates. Pre-pandemic, it was possible to place an order and be able to schedule delivery within the next two hours, if necessary. Now that isn’t possible. Deliveries are scheduled two days later or longer so customers have to keep that in mind when ordering to keep the pantry stocked for meal prep. The delivery people and the shoppers in the stores and warehouses are providing an invaluable service so that others can shelter in place.