Slow shipping: Amazon puts new grocery shoppers on hold

Amazon (AMZN) beat back the competition with its promise of fast, convenient shipping for the American consumer, but that seemingly ironclad contract hasn’t held up in wake of the COVID-19 onslaught. 

Since March, the online shopping giant has rolled back several of its signature services, suspending its two-day shipping promise, cancelling its Prime Pantry grocery delivery product and generally re-orienting its massive online operation around essential goods while de-prioritizing non-essentials items.

The whiplash continued this past weekend. On the upside, The Wall Street Journal reported today that Amazon is reversing course on a previously announced directive limiting inbound shipments of non-essential items, and that it will now accept more of those products into its fulfillment centers.

But another rollback came on Sunday, April 12, when the e-commerce said it was putting new grocery delivery customers on a waiting list.

Amazon is focusing on orders placed by existing Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery customers, the company said in a blog post. Interested shoppers will eventually be able to place orders as Amazon continues to add new workers and facilities.

“We are 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,” Amazon said. “We’re increasing capacity each week and will invite new customers to shop every week.”

Rewriting the foundational rules of online shopping – that it is efficient and headache-free – the coronavirus pandemic has focused attention on the challenges of the Amazon e-commerce enterprise, at least in times of crisis.

Increasingly, headlines focus on the plight of  grocery warehouse workers laboring in unsafe conditions, the struggles facing third-party sellers marketing non-essential items, and whether Amazon will lose customers as it continues to struggle with skyrocketing demand for all kinds of products sold on its website.

“If I want to buy [a toy] for my daughter and it’s not going to ship until the end of April, I’m going to question whether I need it,” Mitchell Bailey, chief operating officer  of Etailz, a consultancy that helps brands sell on Amazon, told FreightWaves last week. Bailey was referring to  Amazon’s decision to de-prioritize non-essential goods in favor of essentials, but the premise holds true for a slowdown of any of the e-giant’s online services.

“Customers are going to shop elsewhere,” Bailey said, “and that’s what Amazon really doesn’t want to have happen.”

Amazon said in its blog post that it is taking steps to address the grocery shopping deficits. In addition to hiring 100,000 new workers over the past couple of weeks, it is boosting the number of Whole Foods stores offering grocery delivery. It has also opened a “ghost” grocery of sorts in Woodland Hills, California, where a Whole Foods store will become  a temporary location for filling only online grocery orders for delivery.