Amazon grocery delivery system overloaded Sunday as coronavirus spurs online orders

By Benjamin Romano

The Seattle Times

Surges in demand for online deliveries appeared to throw Amazon’s grocery system into disarray Sunday, causing fear and frustration among delivery drivers.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed that “a systems impact” was limiting the company’s ability to deliver grocery orders from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market.

“We’re contacting customers, issuing concessions, and are working around the clock to quickly resolve the issue,” the spokesperson said.

She described “a significant increase” in online grocery shopping as COVID-19 spreads, and noted the company believes “our role serving customers and the community during this time is a critical one.”

An Amazon Flex delivery driver said the Redmond Whole Foods was so backed up with online orders that the shelves where they were normally held were overflowing and bags containing orders were lined up along the store’s windows.

“Meanwhile drivers are waiting 50+ minutes for their orders to be ready,” the driver said via email, asking not to be named for fear of reprisals from the company. “Don’t know if this is a systems down issue, an overcapacity issue, or something else, but it’s not good!”

Reports on Reddit from people in San Diego, Atlanta and West Hartford, Conn., suggest the same problem was occurring across the country.

Flex drivers, like other gig economy workers, fear that systems failures causing late deliveries and prompting poor ratings from customers will result in strikes against them individually. They worry that the strikes, if not reversed by the company, will cause the algorithms underlying the delivery system to deactivate them, preventing them from taking additional Amazon delivery gigs.