Nurses work at a screening site behind the wheel for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, the United States, on May 6, 2020.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Amazon says it supplied more than 100 million items to front-line workers and government agencies hardest hit by the shortage of protective equipment during the coronavirus epidemic.
Amazon’s B2B market started a dedicated section on its website in late March where “frontline organizations” could order items like N95 masks, ventilators, surgical gloves, and high-volume disinfectants. Amazon said it made no profit on sales of the items. At the same time, the company has limited sales of these items to the general public due to their scarcity and the urgent need of front-line workers.
Since its launch, Amazon has said that more than 20,000 customers have used the site to secure essential supplies, personal protective equipment and household hygiene products, such as medical grade disinfectants, being the most popular.
Among those who ordered items were members of the Department of Homeland Security and workers at the Children’s Hospital Foundation in Maryland, as well as organizations that “don’t usually top the list” of groups that receive equipment. protection, like an independent family. Doctors and rural police and firefighters said Alexandre Gagnon, vice president of Amazon Business, on Monday.
Coping with massive demand
The company received an influx of requests from front-line workers in late March and early April. At the time, safety equipment and ventilators were extremely scarce, prompting some overwhelmed healthcare workers to protest for more PPE.
Despite the global shortage, Amazon has been able to tap into its network of third-party sellers and existing suppliers in China and elsewhere to source more than 100 million medical items sent to customers. This was an unusually high volume of deliveries for “a very small number of SKUGagnon said, demonstrating “how much demand was out there.”
The demand was so high that Amazon added a limited inventory warning to the site:
At the same time, Amazon has started to respond to demand for certain forms of business and public PPE. As it became “less and less constrained,” said Gagnon, Amazon added more ads for disposable masks and other products.
Amazon recently added a section to its ecommerce site with organized lists for face covers and bandanas. N95 masks are always reserved for healthcare professionals. An Amazon spokesperson said the company had rolled out this feature following the CDC’s updated guidelines that recommend users wear a cloth face cover to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
Amazon Business generally provides office supplies and industrial products, and does not normally work in medical equipment. But as hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics were in desperate need of ventilators, the business intervened, although these types of sales generally require a touch in person.
“Generally, in these types of transactions, someone comes to your office and shows you the equipment, lets you try it,” said Gagnon. “But in the event of an emergency, we had to move it forward quickly, so of course putting these sales online was the most effective way to do it.”
Now, while demand for PPE in hospitals has stabilized to some extent, Gagnon said that Amazon Business is preparing to sell these products to companies that would reopen to the public. The company is discussing with existing suppliers, such as Hanes, how they can supply products to customers other than healthcare, including restaurant chains, who may need to provide employees with face masks, or plan to offer them to buyers in stores.
“The urgency has shifted somewhat from health care providers – although it’s still great, super important – to think about how we can help businesses of all sizes,” said Gagnon. “This is the next chapter.”
Correction: Amazon’s announcement in late March said it made no profit on sales of protective gear. An earlier version misdescribed the ad.