Amazon restricts non-essential stock amid coronavirus mayhem

The world’s largest online retailer is temporarily refusing to stock certain non-essential items in its warehouses, as it grapples to meet a surge in demand for household items such as soap and other cleaning products.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused many people around the world to urgently seek out items to help prevent its transmission, such as surgical masks and hand sanitisers, as well as driving the panic buying of basic household items such as toilet roll to sustain households through periods of potential self-isolation. With supermarket shelves being emptied by frantic shoppers, many people are turning to online retailers for their weekly shop.

Many of the most in-demand items are either out of stock, running low or selling at inflated prices on Amazon’s UK marketplace. This has forced Amazon into battle against price gouging, including pulling down more than 500,000 listings and banning thousands of sellers.

In order to prioritise addressing the surge in demand for “household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products”, Amazon will stop stocking many non-essential items in warehouses across Europe (including the UK) and the US. The policy will last until at least April 5 2020.

The move will affect customers as well as third-party sellers using the “Fulfilment by Amazon” program, who face delays shipping orders. Third-parties selling non-essential items on Amazon - who will now be forced to store and ship products themselves or try to get approval to sell through Amazon's online rivals, like eBay - responded with anger and frustration, arguing that they do not have the infrastructure in place to cope with the sudden new responsibilities.

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

Third-party sellers offering baby products; health and household products; beauty and personal care; groceries; industrial and scientific goods, and pet supplies will still have their ordered fulfilled as normal, as these products are categorised as essentials.

Amazon announced earlier this week that it would immediately hire 100,000 further warehouse and delivery workers to help meet the increased demand from shoppers. The GMB Union has accused Amazon of putting “profit before safety” by requiring warehouse workers to work compulsory overtime: a rare request outside the busy Christmas shopping season.

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