Pandemic brings fortunes to Amazon and headaches too

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Pandemic brings fortunes to Amazon and headaches too
In this December 17, 2019, file photo, Amazon packages move along a conveyor at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this December 17, 2019, file photo, Amazon packages move along a conveyor at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(JAMAICA GLEANER) – Amazon has spent years honing the business of packing, shipping and delivering millions of products to doorsteps around the world.

Now it has a captive audience.

With much of the globe in various stages of a lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s largest online retailer has become a lifeline to many shoppers.

But it is also grappling with delivery delays and mounting complaints from workers who worry about contagion while on the job.

The company’s website hit 2.54 billion visitors for the entire month of March, according to online research company Comscore.

That marks a 65% jump from the same period last year.

Amazon will report quarterly earnings on Thursday, providing a first glimpse into its financial performance during the pandemic.

Discounters like Walmart and Dollar General that sell essential products have seen their shares soar 8% and 15% respectively.

But Amazon has been a standout, with its stock up 22% so far this year.

That’s in contrast to the S&P, which has slid 11%. Amazon is also hiring 175,000 more workers at a time when many businesses have cut back and are seeking federal aid.

At the same time, Amazon’s vast empire is showing cracks. Deliveries that used to take just hours to arrive can instead take weeks or even months. High demand items like toilet paper and paper towels are frustratingly out of stock.

Probably the biggest issue facing the $1.1 trillion company is persistent complaints by warehouse workers of gruelling hours of backbreaking work with little protection against catching the coronavirus.

A growing number of infections has increased pressure on the company to take steps that could further slow down operations, including shutting down some of its warehouses and easing productivity quotas.

“Amazon has gone from a nice-to-have to a necessity,” said Jon Reily of Isobar, a global digital agency.

“It’s becoming a public utility like the electric company or the water company. But they’re putting pressure on workers. And workers are scared.”

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