Amazon is banning some non-essential items during the coronavirus pandemic

Faced with merchandise shortages in the US and Europe due to the new coronavirus outbreak, Amazon on Tuesday instituted sweeping changes on which products it will store and ship from its warehouses over the next three weeks in a move it said was aimed at keeping essential items in stock and speeding up orders.

Early Tuesday morning, Amazon said it would be “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 deliver these products to customers.”

The company said most of the products it was still accepting fall into one of six categories: baby products, health and household, beauty and personal care, grocery, industrial and scientific, and pet supplies. The messages were sent to both third-party sellers who store goods in Amazon warehouses through the Fulfillment by Amazon program, as well as wholesale vendors who sell goods to Amazon that then Amazon then resells to customers.

With governments across the globe recommending and even mandating that people stay inside amid the pandemic, more shoppers are turning to Amazon to stock up rather than visit brick-and-mortar stores. But the rush of shopping targeting select categories has meant frequent out-of-stock messages for items ranging from hand sanitizer and hand soap to face masks, as well as sellers taking advantage of low supply by attempting to price-gouge customers.

This move — coupled with Amazon’s announcement on Monday that it was hiring 100,000 warehouse workers to keep up with surging demand — highlights the level at which consumers are relying on online shopping during the pandemic. At the same time, it’s also a realization that even the endless digital aisles of Amazon’s Everything Store, and Amazon’s logistics prowess, were not built to fully sustain the change in consumer behavior that the pandemic has forced essentially overnight.

On Amazon’s message board for third-party sellers, the news was greeted with panic early Tuesday morning.

“Amazon just put tons of businesses out of business,” one seller wrote on Amazon’s forum early Tuesday morning.. “Destroyed thousands of jobs amidst a crisis. Horrible joke. Absolute joke. No warning. Expect major lawsuits coming from sellers who now will go bankrupt.”

“It is not doable,” another wrote. “Most of us do not have the infrastructure in place. We do not have the boxes or packing material to do this.”

Amazon spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday morning. In the notice to sellers, the company said “We understand this is a change to your business, and we did not take this decision lightly.”