Amazon to recruit 100,000 extra workers to cope with coronavirus-induced online shopping surge

Online retailer plans to focus its recruitment drive on providing jobs to hospitality and service industry workers who are out of work as coronavirus prompts city-wide shutdowns across the US

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has prompted Amazon to launch an out-of-season recruitment drive, as consumers switch up their shopping habits to avoid the shops.

The online retail giant has set out plans to hire an additional 100,000 full- and part-time staff in its US fulfilment centres to ensure it has the capacity to cope with the surge in online shopping orders prompted by the spread of coronavirus.

The company is also committing to investing $350m to raise the hourly rates of pay for its retail workers in the UK, Europe and the US by £2, €2 and $2, respectively.

In a blog post announcing the move, Dave Clark, senior vice-president of worldwide operations at Amazon, said that as more communities around the world are affected by the virus, demand for “critical supplies” ordered online are soaring.

“Getting a priority item to your doorstep is vital as communities practise social distancing, particularly for the elderly and others with underlying health issues,” wrote Clark. “We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labour needs are unprecedented for this time of year.”

At the time of writing, data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there had been 3,487 confirmed cases of the disease in the country to date, and 68 coronavirus-related deaths.

Amazon’s recruitment strategy will be focused on helping members of the service and hospitality industry who have found themselves out of work as cities across the US have ordered bars, restaurants and shops to close as part of their coronavirus containment strategies.

“We also know many people have been economically impacted as jobs in areas like hospitality, restaurants and travel are lost or furloughed as part of this crisis,” said Clark. “We want those people to know we welcome them on our teams until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.”

Computer Weekly contacted Amazon to ask whether the firm has any plans to repeat this hiring spree in other countries, including the UK, but was still awaiting a response at the time of publication.

Alison Porter, a portfolio manager working within the global technology team at investment advisory firm Janus Henderson, said news of the hiring spree comes at time in the year when the online retail giant has traditionally sought to wind down its reliance on temporary workers.

But as consumers across the globe respond to government-led calls to minimise their contact with others and self-isolate if they show symptoms of coronavirus, the demand for online shopping services has soared – particularly, also, as panic buying has led to supply shortages of products such as toilet rolls, hand sanitiser and soap in stores.

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“This is seasonally a period when Amazon would typically be shedding temporary workers post-Christmas holiday surge – but the volume of demand has left it extending hours available to work and raising hourly rates to try and fulfil,” said Porter. 

“Amazon is hiring incrementally, but they are also having to balance this with the health and safety of all their employees and ensuring that appropriate quarantine and sick pay is provided. At this time, online delivery is becoming an essential service for the elderly, for those self-isolating, and with the widespread introduction of social distancing.”

The firm is known to have made sizeable investments in its delivery infrastructure in recent quarters to beef up its ability to provide one-day delivery options on various goods sold via the site, which will have gone some way to ensuring it can cope with the jump in consumer demand it has seen so far.

But Porter said the company “could not have anticipated this type of surge in demand” and may find that it picks up some first-time Amazon customers in the process.

“While this recent surge in demand, we hope, will prove temporary as fears and cases [of coronavirus] abate, we also believe there will be a long-term benefit to the company in that new habits will be established and new customers to the service will be acquired,” she added.

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