Why Amazon shipments are slow during the pandemic

Three reporters explain why the world's largest online retailer wasn't ready for this.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, Smart home, Digital health Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
2 min read

Amazon is stretching to keep up.

James Martin/CNET

Shopping on Amazon doesn't feel the same during this pandemic. "Two-day delivery" feels more like "someday delivery." Many items seem to be permanently "unavailable" and state's attorneys general are pressuring the site to police price gouging. Meanwhile, the site pivoted away from stocking its most popular category to handle the demand for more essential items.

All of this is happening at a company that's considered the model for customer-centric service and logistics prowess. But an unforeseen global pandemic during a normally light retail period along with rapidly changing item demand and an increasingly unhappy workforce has strained even Amazon's mastery of online retail. Ironically, its scale may not be helping: Amazon attracts the overwhelming majority of online retail sales in the US and, therefore, the overwhelming share of surge at times like these.

Watch this: What happened to Amazon?

Three reporters who follow Amazon closely see the company's struggles through different lenses, and don't even agree on whether Amazon is struggling at all. 


"This is typically the time when retailers are retrenching after the holidays," says Ben Fox Rubin, senior reporter for CNET. "This spike in demand during a typically quiet part of the year has caught them completely by surprise." Even Prime Day, Amazon's invented shopping holiday, is expected to be cancelled for 2020.

In the end, this pandemic could cause many to review the role of Amazon in their daily life, though perhaps with little change as a result. "Amazon is still the most customer-centric company in the world," says Lisa Lacy, senior writer at Adweek. "They have 150 million Prime members and have amassed a loyal following by putting the customer first. For the Amazon brand itself to take a beating would require some pretty extraordinary events." 

Amazon US market share 2019

A good bad thing? Amazon dwarfs other US online retailers in sales volume, but that also makes the big swings in its business bigger.


Jose Pagliery, investigative reporter for Univision 41 in New York, isn't as sanguine about the company's prospects. "When we turn toward shopping online, the people who pack, ship and deliver those orders still have to go to work," says Pagliery, who's covered worker strikes and complaints of unsafe conditions. "Either these strikes are going to put a halt to Amazon's activity, or slow it down, or the pandemic will."