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Amazon 'Bug' Was Hiding Products That Would Have Shipped Faster Amid Covid-19 Delays

Illustration for article titled Amazon Bug Was Hiding Products That Would Have Shipped Faster Amid Covid-19 Delays
Photo: Getty

Amazon is now delaying the shipment of nonessential items through Prime by up to a month as the company struggles to meet the heavy demand of orders it’s experiencing amid shelter-at-home and self-isolation orders put in place to mitigate the spread of covid-19 in the United States. But following this change, Amazon has evidently been burying results for nonessential items from rival sellers on its marketplace who could’ve shipped items faster and even at lower prices.

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The apparent oversight by Amazon was discovered by Recode, which reported on Thursday that Amazon’s algorithm—which prioritizes its own products over competing listings by other sellers—has been hiding these listings of nonessential items that would’ve allowed Prime users to get items sooner than the end of April. An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the issue in a call with Gizmodo and said the company had deployed a fix late Thursday, though the company said it’s currently evaluating whether adjusting the algorithm to fix what it called a “bug” will affect any other systems.

“To address the need for high priority items and ensure customers are receiving deliveries as quickly as possible, we’ve made a number of adjustments to how our store works,” the spokesperson said. “In this case, some of these changes have resulted in an error which, in some cases, resulted in an unintended variation in how we select which offers to feature. We are working to correct it as quickly as possible.”

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As Recode noted, hiding these items—intentionally or otherwise—and prioritizing the sale of products stocked by Amazon in its warehouses would have made sense if not for delays and their impact on sellers. Customers could still technically access these items by selecting the “New & Used from…” box underneath the Buy Now or Add to Cart selections on a product page. But shoppers may not opt to view these additional sellers for any number of reasons, including simply being used to using Amazon’s Buy Now feature without paying much mind to who the item is being shipped by—whether it be Amazon or a store or another third-party merchant.

Sellers who spoke with Recode cited this problem as one of a number of issues that were hurting their business. According to Recode, Amazon is also holding hostage merchandise that some sellers store in its warehouses as workers in those facilities are preoccupied with priority orders and demand during the coronavirus pandemic. That means the sellers aren’t able to ship those products themselves. This is a tough spot for sellers of nonessential items to be in, as they’re unable to make immediate income from those sales. But Amazon customers are also relying on the company to deliver essentials at a time when leaving their homes may be dangerous or even deadly.

In a statement, the Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company has “temporarily paused removal operations in some of our fulfillment centers and will waive Long Term Storage Fees accordingly.”

“We know this is a change for our selling partners and we did not make this decision lightly,” the spokesperson said. “We are working to increase capacity and appreciate their understanding as we temporarily prioritize high demand products for customers.”

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The on-the-fly adjustments Amazon is making to its systems extend beyond product sales. The company has seen numerous cases of covid-19 in workers at its warehouses, and the company has failed to adequately manage a response to those cases. When one worker tested positive for covid-19 earlier this month at a facility in Queens—the first reported case at its warehouses in the U.S.—workers at the site said Amazon reopened the facility within hours of sanitation. Following a more recent covid-19 case at an Amazon facility in Kentucky, the company closed the warehouse for two days to accommodate cleaning.

Even a thorough deep clean, however, wouldn’t be adequate if the individual had become infected and showed up to work before exhibiting symptoms. A group of U.S. senators is now calling on Amazon to provide two weeks of paid leave and temporarily close facilities in the event that an Amazon worker tests positive for covid-19 in order to allow other workers at the site to self-isolate—a measure that Amazon should be taking to curb the spread of the disease but isn’t. Instead, Amazon has taken to referring to its workers as “heroes fighting for their communities.”

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The spokesperson for Amazon who spoke with Gizmodo noted that changes to the company’s normal operations are happening quickly, and some oversights will certainly occur during that process. But the seller issue is the latest in a series of failings at practically every level of Amazon’s business. And Amazon’s repeated oversights are clearly not only hurting sellers but are jeopardizing the health and safety of workers and potentially even consumers as well.

If you have information or experiences you would like to share with us, contact ckeck@gizmodo.com or tip us anonymously through Secure Drop.

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DISCUSSION

Really disappointed in Amazon...a company that large doesn’t seem to be able to keep its supply chain intact while my local grocer can?  I’ve cancelled my monthly grocery/pantry subscriptions since the prices have gone way up and delivery is long delayed (my local grocer prices have not gone up) and when this is all said and done...I’ll be returning to shopping IRL at my local grocer (still part of a national chain mind you) for a: keeping supplies plentiful and b: not jacking up prices.