Amazon plans virtual grocery waiting lists to cope with surging demand

You'll get your delivery window on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Noam Galai/Getty Images

Amazon and Whole Foods have been straining to keep up with grocery demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s leading to new measures to reduce some of the frustration for shoppers. Amazon is introducing virtual waiting lines that will give you a “secure time to shop” and give you a delivery window on a “first come, first served basis.” The move should save you from having to compete for time slots quite so often, even if it does mean getting a less-than-ideal slot. The change should arrive in the “coming weeks.”

The internet retailer stressed that it was still trying to improve availability. It had already increased capacity by 60 percent to respond to the pandemic, and was adding more “as swiftly as possible.”

The company has been making other moves to streamline food deliveries. The chain is changing store hours for some Whole Foods Market stores to focus solely on internet grocery orders (including a new store in Woodland Hills, California). It’s temporarily requesting that new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery and pickup customers wait for invitations before they can shop online, and those who can shop can see available delivery windows on the services’ respective homepages. Food assistance under SNAP has also become more widely available in states like Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Amazon’s home state of Washington.

Extreme measures aren’t unique among services. Instacart, for instance, recently implemented a first-available-shopper delivery option for customers who don’t want to wait long stretches for preferred delivery windows. This is bound to have an effect on many customers given Amazon’s sheer size, though. It also draws attention to concerns about Amazon’s supply chain. There are allegations Amazon isn’t doing enough to protect warehouse workers against COVID-19, and any infections among those workers (or those at Whole Foods stores) risk exacerbating food supply problems even with virtual lineups in place.