If you tried to buy toilet paper, baby products, or disinfectant wipes from Amazon in the past few days, you were probably out of luck. That's the result of a surge of online shopping that comes as cities and states are attempting to limit interaction among people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

To handle that, Amazon is taking a relatively drastic step to make sure it doesn't run out of products that consumers need right now. In a statement on its Seller Central website, Amazon says it is "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 ship these products to customers." 

Amazon says it is prioritizing baby products, health and household items, beauty and personal care products, groceries, industrial and scientific items, and pet supplies. Sellers who list other types of items will temporarily be unable to create shipments to Amazon's distribution centers. Amazon also informed sellers that shipments created before today won't be affected.

In addition, the company says it is trying to backfill the supply of those products by "working around the clock with our selling partners to ensure availability of these essential products, and continue to bring on additional capacity to deliver customer orders." The availability of those products online is increasingly important considering the government is encouraging people to stay at home for the next few weeks.

Sellers can still sell other items on the site, but won't be able to use the company's Fulfilled By Amazon service, which allows them to stock their items in Amazon's warehouses for quick distribution and shipment.

This step is another move in just the past two days by Amazon to prioritize serving its customers as the world has changed in dramatic ways essentially overnight. Every company--if they haven't already--should take stock and prioritize what matters most right now.

For most companies, that should be protecting your people and your customers as best you can. Right now, there are plenty of things that just aren't that important and can wait.

At the same time, there are probably some things you can do for your business and your community. It may not require an Amazon-size shift in the short term, but as a business owner, make a decision to use this time to be as productive as you can and prepare your business for what comes next. 

I saw a local coffee shop today, for example, that has had to shut its doors, but it is launching a new app so people can order ahead and pick up, and is starting door-to-door delivery. 

Those are the types of things that can help you maintain your business during a crisis, while also continuing to provide for your customers. Getting creative and devoting time and resources for the future are always good investments--now more than ever.

Published on: Mar 18, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.