Amazon announced earlier this week that it would start prioritizing the most in-demand essential items in its warehouses, as the e-commerce giant struggles to keep up with customer demand during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Now the other shoe has dropped.
On Sunday, customers and Amazon merchants posted on social media platforms saying certain non-essential items were showing April 21 delivery dates, even though they were listed as in-stock and shipping with Amazon’s Prime express shipping service. During normal times, Amazon Prime deliveries typically arrive in one or two days in the US. Now, some Prime deliveries for in-stock items are showing five-day delivery promises on the lower end, but those waits are as long as a month on some items.
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.”
The significant delivery delays showcase just how much shoppers are turning to online shopping during the global health crisis, and how even an online retailer as technologically-advanced and powerful as Amazon can only do so much to handle such an unexpected, once-in-a-generation shopping rush. On Tuesday, Amazon acknowledged the challenges it was facing when it said it would only accept new stock in its warehouses through early April if it was in one of six essential products categories, such as health and household goods or medical supplies. The company also said it was looking to hire 100,000 new workers to help sort, package and deliver goods for customers.
The trade-off Amazon is making, for now, is that some items like printer ink and coffee makers — which don’t fall into the six different product categories Amazon is currently prioritizing as essential — are showing delivery delays unlike anything Amazon customers have experienced in recent memory. It’s unclear if Amazon will refund Prime membership fees — either partially or fully — if the delays continue. Amazon Prime costs $119 a year in the US, and comes with other perks beyond express shipping like video and music streaming.
On Twitter, customers cited April 21 delivery dates for items as varied as computer monitor cables to espresso machines. One person complained that he tried to order cables that he’d “normally go to Guitar Center and grab,” but Amazon could only deliver them by April 21. That’s the same date Recode found when we looked up similar cables on Sunday night.
For Amazon merchants who sell in categories outside of the ones Amazon currently deems essential, the delivery delays could be problematic.
“This has to be the biggest disruption to Amazon’s operations since they started,” said Joe Kaziukenas, CEO of the e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse. “And, unfortunately, it will have a big impact on sellers and ultimately customers, too.”
Sunday, Amazon sellers compared notes on Reddit message boards to try to figure out which items were showing delays and which weren’t. Some said their items were showing April 21 delivery dates even though they were goods in one of the six categories Amazon is currently prioritizing. Others said the same item was showing normal delivery times for some zip codes, but April 21 delivery for other zip codes.
Either way, this is the current reality for Amazon customers and Amazon sellers alike: five-day Prime delivery waits are the norm, and month-long waits are not uncommon. And it’s unclear how long it will last.
Update, March 22, 2020, 11:15 pm ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.