On March 17 2020, a number of tweets suggested a massive looming disruption in the flow of products from Amazon to customers, claiming that only medical supplies and “high-demand items” would be available for up to a month:
BREAKING – Amazon suspends all non-essential shipments amid the #COVID19 outbreak. The company sent a memo to sellers it will stop deliveries other than medical supplies and household staples.https://t.co/ImSxgFItkl
— Disclose.tv 🚨 (@disclosetv) March 17, 2020
Breaking: $AMZN tells sellers it's suspending shipments of all non-essential products to its warehouses. Prioritizing following categories: baby product; health & household; beauty & personal care; grocery; industrial & scientific; pet supplies.https://t.co/ZTjg3qRTxb
— Eugene Kim (@eugenekim222) March 17, 2020
Amazon is suspending all non essential shipments to prioritize household staples and medical supplies.👍https://t.co/24UKKpy6Sf
— Joseph Patrick 🧢 (@JoeyGDNBoss) March 17, 2020
Amazon is suspending all shipments of non-essential products. Since Amazon is a monopoly, thousands of sellers forced onto its e-commerce platform will now be crushed. Are we OK with this reality where our economy is Amazon's plaything & its word is law?https://t.co/NWE6iygHMp
— Edward Ongweso Jr (@bigblackjacobin) March 17, 2020
Tweets typically claimed that Amazon.com would cease shipping all but “medical supplies” and “high-demand items” (the latter usually going undefined), news that stood to cut Americans off further from their access to household goods in a time of shortages.
Exacerbating matters was the fact that the source for the claims appeared to be Business Insider, and that the article itself was behind a hard paywall. (Soft paywalls allow a number of free views, or the option to turn off ad-blocking software.) Not long after the article circulated, users tweeted archives of the link so those on the other side of a paywall might read it:
for those that don't want to deal with the paywallhttps://t.co/7FakILbfIG
— Kyle (@shotkb22) March 17, 2020
The linked article was headlined “Amazon is suspending all shipments other than medical supplies and household staples to its warehouses amid coronavirus crisis — read the memo it just sent sellers”:
• Amazon told sellers on [March 17 2020] that it was suspending shipments of all nonessential products to its warehouses to deal with the increased workloads following the coronavirus outbreak.
• Amazon is now prioritizing medical supplies, household staples, and other high-demand products to its warehouses until April 5 .
• “We are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers,” the message read.
In the first three paragraphs of the article, however, some important detail appeared:
Amazon is blocking sellers from shipping nonessential products to its warehouses in response to the significant increase in orders it’s seeing as the novel coronavirus spreads across the US.
On [March 17 2020] the company told sellers in an email that it would accept only shipments of “household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products” to its warehouse until April 5  to deal with the high demand of those products amid the coronavirus crisis.
That means sellers who use Amazon’s storage and delivery network for a fixed fee, through a program called Fulfillment by Amazon, will no longer be able to ship nonessential products to Amazon. It doesn’t affect last-mile shipments of those products to consumers.
Amazon shoppers and particularly Prime members might be aware that some products from Amazon are sold by Amazon.com and others by third-party merchants, with some of the latter’s products available for “Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)” and Prime shipping. Per the excerpt, a segment of products available on Amazon — sold by third-party sellers — would be subject to restrictions. But items sold by Amazon.com would not have those same restrictions.
In a tweet, journalist Tony Webster highlighted both that key detail, as well as confusion caused by a viral claim from behind a paywall, describing the combination as problematic during a time of crisis:
Tons of tweets spreading that Amazon is suspending all shipments except medical supplies and household staples, citing a @businessinsider article. But Business Insider paywalled their article, which clarifies *from suppliers to warehouses.* If you care about facts, end paywalls. pic.twitter.com/Chli6kujNi
— Tony Webster (@webster) March 17, 2020
Other users noted that a spate of partly-informed tweets led to panic as the article spread:
I very rarely delete tweets, but I deleted my previous. Amazon is suspending deliveries *to* their warehouse except medical and staples. There's enough of a bullshit epidemic going on without me contributing to it.
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) March 17, 2020
Business Insider also included a copy of the email sent by Amazon.com to its marketplace sellers:
Hello from Fulfillment by Amazon,
We are closely monitoring the developments of COVID-19 and its impact on our customers, selling partners, and employees.
We are seeing increased online shopping, and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock. With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers.
For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. We are taking a similar approach with retail vendors.
This will be in effect today through April 5, 2020, and we will let you know once we resume regular operations. Shipments created before today will be received at fulfillment centers.
You can learn more about this on this Help page. Please note that Selling Partner Support does not have further guidance.
We understand this is a change to your business, and we did not take this decision lightly. We are working around the clock to increase capacity and yesterday announced that we are opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in our fulfillment centers across the US.
We appreciate your understanding as we prioritize the above products for our customers.
Thank you for your patience, and for participating in FBA.
After the link and confusion started to spread, Business Insider tweeted a “CLARIFICATION” highlighting that the suspension of shipping was to its warehouses, not from them:
CLARIFICATION: Amazon is suspending all shipments other than medical supplies and household staples *to its warehouses* amid coronavirus crisis — read the memo it just sent sellers https://t.co/LAhlOGZoFh
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) March 17, 2020
As observed by Webster and others, implementation of hard paywalls presented an information risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Business Insider’s paywalled article about changes to logistics at Amazon caused the mistaken belief that Amazon.com would suspend shipping all but medical supplies and high-demand items to its customers; in actuality, the paywalled article reported that Amazon sellers (not shoppers) were the ones primarily affected by the company’s announcement. To further clarify, Amazon.com announced temporary suspensions directly affecting Amazon’s merchants, not its shoppers — changes which would possibly affect availability of some items to a degree. However, it was not true that Amazon was suspending all shipping of all products to everyone; it was limiting what it received, not what it sold.