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Amazon to prioritize shipping "high demand" products due to coronavirus

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Amazon is asking third-party sellers to stop shipping most goods to its warehouses as the online retailer grapples with a coronavirus-fueled surge in demand for medical supplies and household products.

The ecommerce company told sellers in a note on Tuesday that it will only ship "household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products" unless Amazon already has other purchased items on hand in its warehouses.

The pause lasts through at least April 5 and will apply to Amazon shipments in the U.S. and European Union. Products already in Amazon warehouses, or those currently in transit on their way to the facilities, will not be affected, the company said.

The change affects third-party shippers that rely on Amazon's fulfillment service, as well merchants who sell directly to Amazon. Sellers that package and ship their own goods will not be affected by the temporary change in policy..

"We are seeing increased online shopping, and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock," Amazon told CBS MoneyWatchh in a statement. "With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so we can more quickly receive, restock and ship these products to customers."

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Products that Amazon is prioritizing for shipment must fall into one of six categories, according to the company: 

  • baby products
  • health and household products
  • beauty and personal care products (including personal care appliances)
  • grocery products
  • industrial and scientific products
  • pet supplies.

Amazon told customers last weekend that waits for some products could take longer than the usual two days. Many common items, such as soap and diapers, were listed as unavailable on Tuesday.

Third-party businesses constitute most of the sellers on Amazon's vast platform, generating more sales than even the products sold directly by Amazon, according to Business Insider. While they are independent businesses, these sellers often heavily rely on Amazon and have little say in setting the terms of their interaction.

"We understand this is a change to your business, and we did not take this decision lightly. We are working around the clock to increase capacity," Amazon wrote in its note. 

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That didn't assuage many sellers, with some writing that the change could put them out of business. Others called for compassion for the workers who pack and ship Amazon goods and whose jobs don't allow them to work from home during the coronavirus crisis.

"For most of us, this would mean inconvenience. For those at risk, it means a matter of life and death," one poster wrote in a seller forum.

Amazon has faced a surge in orders as coronavirus panic sets in across the U.S. and more people shop online. The company announced on Monday it would hire 100,000 additional workers to deal with "unprecedented" labor needs.

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