The services have also added virtual lines for securing delivery slots.

By Mike Pomranz
April 14, 2020
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Stay-at-home orders across the country have led to a severe spike in demand for home delivery of groceries. In some areas, delivery slots are barely even available—so to cope, one of the biggest names in grocery delivery has announced a major policy shift: Amazon will be using virtual lines as part of its Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery services—both for new customers to sign up and existing customers to get delivery slots.

On Sunday, in an official blog post describing “New ways we’re getting groceries to people during the COVID-19 crisis,” Amazon’s Vice President of Grocery Stephenie Landry wrote, “While we have increased order capacity by more than 60 percent due to COVID-19, we still expect the combination of customer demand and restricted capacity due to social distancing will continue to make finding available delivery windows challenging for customers.”

For potential new customers, this means that, for the time being, Amazon will be restricting new signups. “We are temporarily asking new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery and pickup customers to sign up for an invitation to use online grocery delivery and pickup,” Landry explained. “We’re increasing capacity each week and will invite new customers to shop every week.”

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Meanwhile, existing customers will be able to join a different kind of waitlist. “In the coming weeks, we will launch a new feature allowing customers to secure time to shop,” Landry continued. “This feature will give delivery customers a virtual ‘place in line’ and will allow us to distribute the delivery windows on a first come, first served basis. Simultaneously, we will continue to add capacity as swiftly as possible.”

The idea of waiting in a line—be it real or virtual—never sounds fun, but it’s almost certainly better than the current system where once slots are gone, they’re gone, and you simply have to hope you have better luck next time.

(We’ve reached out to Whole Foods to find out how long the temporary new customer policy will be in place and how long current wait times are but have yet to hear back as of this writing. We’ll update once we’ve received a response.)

Creating digital queues is only part of a larger approach Amazon says they’re taking to better meet demand without compromising the safety of employees. Landry states that other policy changes have included expanding the number of Whole Foods locations offering pickup, hiring tens of thousands of new employees, altering the hours at some Whole Foods store to deal specifically with online orders, and “releasing delivery windows throughout the day and [making] it easier for customers to see when the next delivery window is available by including it on the homepages of Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market.”

And Amazon is far from the only major chain continuing to struggle with the operational challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, Business Insider reported that a Walmart in Michigan faced backlash after confusion over a new “essential items only” policy led them to refuse to sell a woman a child’s car seat. Needless to say, retailers will continue to stay nimble and adjust as one of the few consistent themes of the COVID-19 outbreak has been to expect the unexpected.