Amazon and the Pandemic: How the virus that battered the economy was a boon for Jeff Bezos.

AuthorMacGillis, Alec

I departed Baltimore in the early evening. Interstate 95, the perpetually clogged corridor of the Eastern Seaboard, was emptier than I had ever seen it. Digital highway signs overhead declared "SAVE LIVES NOW. STAY HOME." I had never been in the vicinity of a war zone, but it occurred to me that it might feel somewhat like this--only the most essential or foolhardy travelers on the roads, the rest of the world hunkered down.

Except there were no troop carriers or munitions haulers in this war zone. Instead, there were trucks. The majority of the few vehicles on the road were tractor trailers, and the vast plurality of those were Amazon trucks. I counted two dozen of them on the hundred-mile stretch between Baltimore and southern New Jersey, where it got too dark to see logos.

I had seen many, many Amazon trucks on my travels around the country over the past few years. I had never seen a concentration anywhere close to this.

If we were in a war against the novel coronavirus, then Amazon was our troop carrier. In this war, mobilizing to attack the enemy meant universal withdrawal and self-isolation, and Amazon was supplying that mobilization by bringing us everything at home, allowing us to stay there. All at once, it had become our civic duty, our cause larger than ourselves, to fulfill our needs online. An act of convenience that had once been tinged--at least for some--with misgivings was now infused with righteousness. By placing a one-click order, one was flattening the curve.

The boxes came, in great numbers. Often, they sat on porches or in garages for a day or two in case they'd been tainted with viral particles by their delivery handler. When this quarantine passed, the boxes were allowed into the home.

The orders were placed in such quantity that the company, famed for its peerless logistics operation, was for once having trouble keeping up. Amazon announced it was hiring 100,000 more workers at its warehouses, then a few weeks later announced it was hiring 75,000 more.

It told buyers and third-party sellers that it was deprioritizing orders deemed less than essential. In the most startling move of all, it briefly removed some of the web features intended to get shoppers to buy more from the site--Amazon was for once discouraging people from spending more money. The company had seen into the future, when it would truly be the Everything Store, the Be-All, End-All Store, but it wasn't ready to carry it off. Not yet.

Such emergency...

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