No one has it easy during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Amazon has it particularly hard. Google, Facebook, and Netflix all deliver their services over the internet, and a healthy amount of that work can be done from home. Amazon, by contrast, has taken on the job of delivering physical goods to our homes. At a time when tens of millions of Americans are isolated in their homes, Amazon has become a critical lifeline delivering food and supplies. But over the past several days, Amazon has begun to struggle under the weight.
The most significant news so far came Sunday night, when Jason Del Rey broke the news that Amazon’s famous two-day shipping for Prime members would now be delayed up to a month for “non-essential” items. Del Rey writes
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to Recode on Sunday evening that the new April 21 delivery dates are not the result of a technical bug or error; they accurately reflect Amazon’s current reality.
“To serve our customers in need while also helping to ensure the safety of our associates, we’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third-party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering items that are a higher priority for our customers,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “This has resulted in some of our delivery promises being longer than usual.”
At least Americans can still get
non-essential items. (Which is to say, items outside the following departments: baby products; health and household items; beauty and personal care; groceries; and industrial, scientific, and pet supplies.) That’s not true in France or Italy any more, Krystal Hu reported at Reuters
. The company has temporarily stopped taking orders for non-essential items that are shipped through its fulfillment service while it focuses on getting more important items to customers.
Amazon has also said it will hire 100,000 new workers to help with increased demand amid the crisis, offering an equally important lifeline to a nation staring down the barrel of double-digit unemployment for the first time in recent memory.
My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role. I want you to know Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won’t stop looking for new opportunities to help.
One thing that could be helpful in this time is for Amazon to regularly brief the public on the health of its distribution networks and its expectations for any service interruptions in the immediate future. The company has historically worked to keep the media at greater than arm’s length, communicating primarily by press release.
But the current crisis is changing the company’s service so frequently, and with such high stakes, that a different approach is needed. One model Amazon might consider is that of Facebook, which over the past couple years began hosting regular briefings on subjects in the news. (There have been a lot about Russia, misinformation, and election security, for example.) Last week, the company held a briefing on its coronavirus response, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took questions from the press
If it undertook similar measures, Amazon could build confidence in its services. The alternative — a torturous drip of news about service disruptions, delivered at odds hours across various news outlets who manage to get a response back from the company’s public relations team — has made for a grim status quo. It is not an approach that bears the hallmarks of customer obsession
If you pay for Amazon Web Services, the company sells you guaranteed uptime — if the service fails more than 0.01 percent of the time, you get a discount on future service
. Already, some are speculating that Amazon will offer similar discounts to those affected by the understandable disruptions caused by COVID-19.
But there’s something else the company could do, and it has the virtue of being basically free. It could regularly tell all its customers what’s happening today, and what to expect tomorrow. If Bezos is right that “things are going to get worse before they get better,” as he told his employees, then his customers could use as much time as possible to begin contemplating their alternatives.