Amazon and subsidiary Whole Foods Market have begun limiting the number of online grocery customers because of skyrocketing demand fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
On a temporary basis, AmazonFresh and Whole Foods delivery and pickup customers now must sign up for an invitation to use those online grocery services, Seattle-based Amazon said yesterday.
Customers have “generated unprecedented demand for grocery delivery” in the “new world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders” now in effect across the country, according to Stephenie Landry, vice president of grocery at Amazon.
“We’re increasing capacity each week and will invite new customers to shop every week,” Landry said in a blog post on Sunday. “We are releasing delivery windows throughout the day and have made it easier for customers to see when the next delivery window is available by including it on the homepages of AmazonFresh and Whole Foods Market.”
Order capacity has been expanded by more than 60% in response to soaring demand, Landry reported. Yet the combination of continued high demand and restricted capacity resulting from social distancing will make the availability of delivery windows “challenging” for customers, she noted.
“To help, in the coming weeks, we will launch a new feature that will allow customers to secure time to shop,” Landry said. “This feature will give delivery customers a virtual ‘place in line’ and will allow us to distribute the delivery windows on a first-come, first-served basis. Simultaneously, we will continue to add capacity as swiftly as possible.”
At Whole Foods, grocery pickup service has been increased from about 80 stores to more than 150 in the past few weeks, and the chain plans to keep up the expansion over the coming weeks. Landry said Whole Foods will modify store hours for select locations to focus exclusively on fulfilling online grocery orders.
“Our Whole Foods Markets stores remain open, and team members have done incredible work ensuring a safe and well-stocked shopping experience,” she added. “If you are able to do so safely, we kindly encourage our customers who can to shop in-person.”
Amazon, too, has opened its planned new grocery store in Woodland Hills, Calif., as a temporary online-only store, according to Landry. The store will focus solely on fulfilling grocery delivery orders.
In addition, Amazon has expanded online access for beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. In tandem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the retailer has now enabled SNAP online grocery purchases in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Washington and said it’s working with the USDA to bring access to more states. Previously, the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot was available only in New York and Washington.
Like other grocery retailers, Amazon is bringing in extra hands to help meet surging demand. In mid-March, the company unveiled plans to hire another 100,000 people, including for grocery delivery, and invest more than $350 million to support employees and partners during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Ramping hiring enables us to more quickly receive, restock and deliver products to customers and continue increasing delivery window availability,” Landry said.
On Monday, Amazon announced that its initial original 100,000 jobs goal was met and that the new employees are working at sites nationwide. The company now said it aims to create an additional 75,000 jobs to “help serve customers during this unprecedented time.”
Coronavirus safety measures in Amazon and Whole Foods stores and facilities have included daily employee temperature checks; distribution of masks and gloves; plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers at checkout; stronger cleaning and sanitation protocols; social distancing guidelines, including restricting the number of customers and employees in stores, based on a location’s size; and modified store hours to give associates more time to restock shelves and sanitize stores.
“Our Amazon associates, Whole Foods Market team members, and delivery partners are among the many retail heroes of this COVID-19 crisis,” Landry said. “Throughout this process our top priority has been the health and safety of customers and employees, while also working around the clock to expand services, launch new features, and open stores in order to serve the dramatic increase in customer demand for grocery delivery.”
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