Amazon just froze new food delivery sign-ups as it desperately recruits staff

Amazon will hire 75,000 more employees to meet coronavirus delivery demands, but still plans to freeze new sign-ups to its food services as it struggles to keep up with stay-at-home shoppers. The retail behemoth says that the new wait-list system will impact both Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery and pickup customers, it's been confirmed.

The decision comes as increasing numbers of people across the US are finding their movements limited, with many states enacting self-isolation rules to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. More than 525,000 people are currently infected according to the CDC, as of Sunday's figures, with over 20,000 deaths reported.

Trying to keep those self-quarantined people supplied with groceries has become a mammoth effort. In an update today, Amazon said that it had expanded its Whole Foods Market grocery pickup service from around 80 stores to more than 150 locations. It has added more than 100,000 people – including for grocery delivery – since March 16.

Even then, there's still a bottleneck. "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," Amazon said today. "We're increasing capacity each week and will invite new customers to shop every week."

Amazon also plans to launch a new scheduling system that will allow shoppers to stake a place in line to actually carry out their online order. "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," the retailer explained. "Simultaneously, we will continue to add capacity as swiftly as possible."

Meanwhile, increasing pay and benefits for employees will cost Amazon more than $500 million, the company now estimates, up from the $350 million it previously suggested. Pay for hourly employees increased by $2/hour in the US, C$2/hour in Canada, and €2/hour in many EU countries, Amazon claims. It also doubled the regular hourly base pay for overtime.

Nonetheless there have been criticisms about how Amazon has handled staffing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns about access to protective equipment, insufficient allowances for social-distancing in the workplace, and an underwhelming paid leave policy have all been leveled at the company as well as CEO Jeff Bezos.

Amazon has since changed its policies around leave, with an update last Friday, April 11, now allowing for up to two weeks of pay for any employee "diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine." Hourly employees can also take unlimited unpaid time off through the end of April.