Amazon opens online grocery back up to more customers

An invite-only requirement had been added a month ago. It's now largely gone.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Amazon said it's removed its waitlist for online grocery deliveries and pickup in most cities, a change that will allow more customers to get food delivered to their homes during the coronavirus crisis.

The e-commerce heavyweight a month ago said new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods customers would have to sign up for an invitation to use these online services and would be notified when they can shop. The change was necessary to respond to "unprecedented" demand, as well as restricted capacity due to social distancing measures. The company had said it would work to increase its capacity and invite new customers every week.

"We've removed the invite list in most cities, and more than 80% of eligible Prime members are able to shop without requesting an invitation," an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement late Tuesday. "We continue inviting new customers every week."

Earlier Tuesday, Amazon confirmed it was speeding up its delivery times, following long delays, and was able to manage more goods coming into its warehouses. All these changes point to Amazon now slowly moving back to more normal operations, after it struggled to respond to a surge in customer orders and factor in 150 new safety protocols for its workers during the pandemic.

More online grocery availability should be a welcome addition for Prime customers, especially the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to the virus. During the first months of the pandemic, demand for online groceries has spiked, after such services had been largely ignored by most US customers for years. Now these services are seen as a valuable lifeline to get weekly food orders and help people avoid having to go into supermarkets. That's made it increasingly difficult for customers to snag a coveted time slot for a grocery delivery from FreshDirect, Amazon Fresh and other services.  

Adobe on Tuesday reported a 110% rise in daily online grocery sales in the US in April, compared to March. Also wine, beer and spirit purchases online jumped 74%, Adobe said.

Amazon's latest operational changes come after the company in March added major restrictions to its logistics network as it tried to manage the sudden surge in orders. It prevented new shipments of nonessential items -- like musical instruments and toys -- from coming into its warehouses, and significantly slowed the delivery times for such products, in some cases by up to a month.

Amazon finance chief Brian Olsavsky late last month said demand remained high and he warned that he still didn't know when more one-day shipping service would be available again. Now it appears that the company's hiring of 175,000 new workers has had a positive impact on Amazon's ability to regain its footing during the pandemic.

Watch this: Grocery stores have a plan to get back to normal