Amazon is ranking customers as coronavirus leads to soaring sales

Seattle: Amazon has added a new measure to try to triage its flood of orders and shortage of goods during the coronavirus pandemic: prioritising its $US119-a-year Prime members.

Now, the company is offering delayed delivery times for non-members of Prime on many nonessential items that are available – such as hair dryers, Tic Tac confectionery and pill pockets to help dogs take medicine.

Amazon is prioritising customers and hiring 100,000 staff to try and keep up with demand.Credit:AP

The move follows weeks of inability to stock and ship household staples – ranging from toilet paper to hand sanitiser to bleach – at a time when shoppers are more and more reliant on Amazon while they are staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus. Amazon has said it will hire 100,000 workers, limit shipments to its warehouses from its third-party sellers, and restrict orders of "lower-priority shipments" to customers in France and Italy, where the outbreak is particularly acute.

But even Prime members have reported struggles to get many items on time. Prime Now and AmazonFresh grocery delivery spots are nearly impossible to find, and the company even temporarily shut down its Prime Pantry program, which allows customers to fill a box with household items.

The panic buying triggered by the coronavirus was as big an event as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, events for which Amazon would typically spend months planning, said David Glick, a former Amazon logistics executive who now serves as chief technology officer at Flexe, which helps retailers warehouse and deliver goods.

"In this case, the thing you planned for, Cyber Monday, happened overnight," Glick said. "It was a shock to the system."

Amazon spokeswoman Keri Bertolino said in a statement that some deliveries have been delayed as the company works to balance customer needs with safety of its workers.

"We've changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third-party seller processes to prioritise stocking and delivering items that are a higher priority for our customers," she added.

There is no playbook to manage the crisis. "We're learning as we go," Amazon's top policy and media executive Jay Carney told CBS This Morning last week. The company's top brass, including Bezos, are holding daily "brainstorming sessions" to help customers and employees, Carney said.

"My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role," Bezos wrote to employees Saturday, referring to the disease caused by the virus.

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