Amazon Suspending Non-Essential Deliveries Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Amazon has temporarily suspended fulfillment of non-essential items through its Fulfillment by Amazon service for third-party sellers through April 5 due to high coronavirus-related demand for medical supplies and essentials, the company said.

“We are seeing increased online shopping and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock,” Amazon said in a Seller Central blog post. “With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and ship these products to customers.”

For non-essential products, Amazon said, “we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. We are taking a similar approach with retail vendors.” Orders placed earlier will be fulfilled, Amazon said.

Priority items include baby, health and household, beauty and personal care, grocery, industrial and scientific and pet supplies categories, according to Amazon.

At least 53% of Amazon sellers will be affected by the freeze of non-essential products, and approximately 94% of third-party Amazon sellers sell through FBA, according to Amazon seller platform Jungle Scout.

Major DTC brands including Glossier, Allbirds, Cuyana, Patagonia and Warby Parker were among the first to close their stores late last week amid worsening fears and shutdowns in response to the growing coronavirus outbreak, according to reports.

This was followed quickly by more traditional retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Nike and Urban Outfitters, according to Business Insider, as mall traffic dries up and companies move to protect their own workers.

At the same time, ecommerce is booming while shutdowns and bunkering become a reality for millions globally. This is causing extreme stress on supply chains, with even Amazon warning customers of delivery delays for everyday items in high demand. Amazon says it plans to hire an additional 100,000 workers and boost pay by $2 an hour to address the crush.

In addition, Amazon had its first report of five workers diagnosed with COVID-19, in Spain and Italy.

Panic buying is continuing to impact grocery chains nationwide as items like bread, milk, toilet paper and cleaning products disappear as soon as they’re stocked. Driven by this intense demand, e-grocery delivery app providers including Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have been setting new records for downloads in recent days, according to Apptopia. Walmart Grocery, for example, went from 20,000 daily downloads on Feb. 15 to 50,000 on March 15.

Carrier UPS is notifying customers all of its employees and facilities are following cleanliness and disinfecting protocols, and that it’s safe to send and receive packages during the outbreak.

“Many people are asking the same question: is it safe to receive and handle a shipment?” UPS said in a note to customers and the media. “The WHO and CDC have stated that the likelihood of catching the COVID-19 virus by touching cardboard or other another shipping container is low.”

The Ecommerce Explosion Continues

Fifty-eight percent of Americans have purchased more items online compared to in-store than they normally would because of COVID-19 coronavirus fears, and if the coronavirus intensifies, 72.8% are likely to increase or further increase online shopping.

That’s according to a survey of 1,000 American consumers from online brand protection company Red Points. The survey shows 59% of Americans are more likely to “make snap purchasing decisions when shopping online because they are afraid that these products will sell out due to the coronavirus outbreak,” for personal care products, household cleaning supplies and more.

The survey highlights the danger that consumers will end up purchasing inauthentic products. Red Points warns that those purchasing items hand sanitizer, gloves and face masks could end up with counterfeits, posing dangers because they don’t work as they should. Sixty-eight percent of respondents worry about that.

Meanwhile, 38% of Americans think it is possible to catch the novel coronavirus from packages purchased online, and 31% are unsure about the safety of packages.

U.S. consumers are increasingly concerned about getting products delivered at all as supply chains break down from the stress caused by coronavirus shopping surge.

Toilet paper is the obvious, often cited example. Amazon and Walmart are wiped out, as is Target, which has joined those retailers on the U.S. top 10 list for ecommerce sales.

The Seattle Times reported that surges in demand for online deliveries appeared to threw Amazon’s grocery system into disarray over this past weekend, hampering its ability to deliver grocery orders from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market.

“We’re contacting customers, issuing concessions, and are working around the clock to quickly resolve the issue,” an Amazon spokesperson told the Seattle Times.

Using the Right Customer Messaging in a Crisis

Ecommerce demand outstripping supplies is also an opportunity for brands, noted Deb Gabor, CEO of brand strategy consultancy Sol Marketing, calling this a time to be opportunistic in a positive way.

“If this is a time when you have an opportunity to prevail, you have to do it in a way you don’t look completely uncouth,” Gabor said. “People are looking for the brands they love and trust to be a beacon for them. Do everything through the lens of ‘we are helping.’ It has to be tied to your brand and in a way that aligns to who your ideal customers are.”

Gabor cited U-Haul as a brand that got it right by announcing when college campuses started closing it would provide free storage space to students at its facilities near campuses. The cosmetics and bath products brand Lush fell short, Gabor said, with its campaign offering mall visitors an opportunity to come in stores and wash their hands for free. “It seemed a little bit like an insincere gesture,” Gabor said.

Her key takeaway for ecommerce brands is to review all marketing automations, including email, and text, to make sure they’re not tone deaf to the concerns of consumers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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