The Challenge of Household Disinfection in the Age of Amazon

The CDC tells us that it is critical that we clean and disinfect our households to guard against COVID-19. We all know we need to do this. But the real question is how to get the products we need. In response to the global pandemic, Amazon has changed their processes to prioritize “stocking and delivering essential items” that include sanitizers and home cleaning supplies.

Given state-wide lockdowns and the need to stay at home, Amazon delivery is more appealing than ever.  Urban consumers who may not own a car especially depend on home delivery in these times. However, despite the changes Amazon has made, it is a major challenge for today’s consumers to purchase the items they need to disinfect their households from Amazon.  Many are finding the task proves to be impossible.

Household disinfecting products provide a case study of the challenge today’s consumers face.  As of today, April 2, Amazon sells three categories of household disinfecting products. These three categories didn’t exist a few months ago, but emerged as Amazon has tried to respond to surges of demand, shortages, stockouts and price gouging.


Category 1 – Brand Name Products That You Can’t Buy at All.  

These are the branded products that US consumers know, trust, and love.  They are well-reviewed and you know they will work. Unfortunately, you can’t buy them today on Amazon. The message is ominous:  “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.”

Lysol All Purpose Cleaner Spray


Amazon has introduced its own branded products, like Solimo.  Not the same as Lysol, but it’s got the Amazon brand backing it up.  You can’t buy these either.



Category 2 – Products That are Only Available to COVID-19 Responders

Yesterday, I noticed a new purchasing restriction on many Amazon products: “Available only for hospitals and government agencies directly responding to COVID-19.”  These products look impressive, are well-priced and well-reviewed.  But, these products are beyond the reach of ordinary consumers who aren’t allowed to buy them.



Even some of the Amazon branded products have been moved to Category 2:





Category 3 – Strange Brands with No Reviews that Take a Long Time To Get Here

It is great that Amazon is providing access for COVID-19 responders to critical items needed by healthcare workers. No one can argue against that. But what about regular consumers who are told to sanitize their hands, their homes, and groceries they bring into the house?

Category 1 brand name items are unavailable, and Category 2 items are off limits to regular consumers.  But, a new third category has emerged on Amazon.   Below is an example.  What is the brand of these wipes?   No reviews. But you can actually buy this, although you won’t get it for 3 weeks.


Although there aren’t reviews, you can check the seller’s reputation. The seller, in this case, is highly rated, so it may be worth a shot if you can afford to wait:



Here is another example.  Jaysuing is not a familiar brand to US consumers. There are no reviews.  Should we trust it? And you’ll have to wait until May 21 – June 12 to get this item.



In this case, however, the seller looks risky with 25% negative ratings.


What are Ordinary Consumers Supposed to Do?

In the absence of familiar branded Category 1 products and with no access to Category 2 products, the ordinary Amazon consumer has to turn to Category 3.  Strange unfamiliar brands, no reviews so no indication of whether the product can be trusted, often questionable sellers and a very long wait.  Those aren’t the reasons over 100 million households in the US are Amazon Prime customers.

In his March 21 message, Jeff Bezos said, “We’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering essential items like household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies. We’re providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable. People are depending on us.”

The ordinary consumer isn’t seeing the benefit of this service, at least not yet.  Can Amazon do more?

A few simple things some to mind.  Let consumers sort Category 3 Amazon products by the expected delivery date so you can see right away which of these products have a chance of arriving more quickly. While these brands are often strange and unknown, consumers care about when then can get them. Nearly 9000 new manufacturers in China have started to produce face masks, and a search for face masks on Amazon turns up page after disorganized page of face masks from new vendors.  Let consumers search by earliest possible delivery date, and these vendors will know that if they can deliver quickly, their products will be seen. This may motivate more vendors to provide rapid shipping options.

Second, find some way to provide trust cues for unfamiliar brands.  Who is making these products?  What else have these companies made?  Why should we trust them?

Third, for the category 1 products, think outside of the box and find some way to give more consumers a fair shot at buying these familiar branded products when they do become available.  For the past month, I’ve used Amazon’s availability notifications (they no longer seem to be an option) without any success. Each time I clicked on an email or text letting me know that a category 1 product was back in stock, I was too late. Surely Amazon can come up with something – a lottery? One per customer? A waiting list to at least get something on your list?

Amazon’s share of US ecommerce is close to 40% – no one else comes close.  With a long road ahead in 2020, consumers are depending on Amazon to be there in their time of need. We are waiting.



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