Trending: Amazon employee at Seattle-area warehouse tests positive for COVID-19
An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Dupont, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon told third-party sellers Tuesday that it will temporarily bar shipments of non-essential items to warehouses so that the company can prioritize medical supplies and household goods. The moratorium will last from March 17 to April 5.

Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech

The change applies to sellers who participate in the Fulfilled by Amazon program, in which the tech giant handles shipping and logistics on behalf of other merchants. Amazon says it has to prioritize essentials because of increased demand as thousands of Americans practice social distancing and turn to online shopping to fulfill their needs.

“We are seeing increased online shopping and as a result, some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so we can more quickly receive, restock and ship these products to customers.”

Amazon says the changes do not apply to orders placed before the announcement. Products that are already en route to Amazon warehouses will be accepted. But the three-week ban on new shipments could be a major blow to merchants who have come to rely on Amazon’s delivery infrastructure.

Inside an Amazon Prime Now delivery hub in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon aggressively markets its fulfillment services to third-party sellers, who pay fees to use the company’s massive logistics engine. Merchants who participate in the program can sell items under the Amazon Prime label. Amazon ensures those third-party items are shipped in one or two days by stocking them in warehouses around the country. Third-party sellers made up 58 percent of Amazon’s physical gross merchandise sales in 2018.

“We understand this is a change for our selling partners and appreciate their understanding as we temporarily prioritize these products for customers,” the Amazon spokesperson said.

As the top online retailer in the U.S., Amazon has become a key player in the COVID-19 outbreak that is driving a spike in online shopping as thousands of people avoid leaving their homes. The company is responsible for 38.7 percent of online sales in the U.S., according to eMarketer. Walmart is second with 5.3 percent.

Delivery times are delayed for many customers and countless household items and medical supplies are out of stock. Amazon Fresh grocery deliveries are delayed indefinitely in some communities.

Under the strain of high demand, Amazon announced a hiring spree Monday. The company plans to add a whopping 100,000 warehouse workers to keep up with orders.

The virus itself could also present a risk to Amazon at a tenuous time. At least five workers at Amazon warehouses in Europe have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Bloomberg. Despite those cases, Amazon does not plan to close its fulfillment centers.

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