Amazon Mena has hired more than 1,500 employees, increasing its workforce by 30 per cent since March, to meet the surge in e-commerce demand due to the coronavirus outbreak, vice president Ronaldo Mouchawar said.
"We see ourselves playing a really essential role here, because we're working with all the authorities to make sure that we're able to deliver as many essentials and important goods to customers across the region that we operate in," Mr Mouchawar told The National.
UAE-based Souq.com, founded by Mr Mouchawar, was acquired by Amazon for $580 million (Dh2.1 billion) in 2017 and rebranded as Amazon.ae a year ago.
Amazon Mena, including Amazon Web Services, now has over 6,500 employees with offices in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Mr Mouchawar said Amazon Mena has been working to balance "adhering to the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health and our own safety standards, but as well as coping with the demand and growth that we see from the consumer's perspective".
Globally, Amazon has found itself in a difficult position as lockdowns and social distancing measures to control the spread of the virus have boosted business.
Sales increased to $75.5bn in the first quarter, up 26 per cent from a year earlier. The nature of the job has however put packaging and delivery workers at increased risk.
The online retailer has filled 175,000 additional jobs since mid-March to help meet demand and take the place of workers sheltering at home.
Amazon has said all employees diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed into quarantine will receive up to two weeks' pay, and increased safety and sanitisation procedures.
However, the company came under growing criticism from workers, trade unions and politicians last month as Covid-19 cases were reported among staff at more than 50 of its US warehouses.
In an earnings call on April 30, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said the company plans to spend its entire profit for the second quarter, expected to be "some $4 billion or more", on Covid-related expenses "getting products to customers and keeping employees safe".
Amazon Mena’s health and safety measures for employees include increased frequency and intensity of cleaning at all fulfilment centres and delivery station sites in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Layouts of the centres have been rearranged so associates can maintain a two-metre distance from co-workers.
"The first changes that we've had to implement were around the safety of our teams: adhering to social distancing, making sure that the sanitisation processes in our warehouses are done well ... to make sure that both our fulfilment centre and delivery network associates are safe," Mr Mouchawar said.
Amazon customers have the option to have deliveries left on the doorstep and there is no longer a requirement for signatures. Although customers can still pay with cash, Amazon has urged customers to use ePay methods for contactless deliveries.
With thousands of employees and delivery partners in the region, Mr Mouchawar said there have been a "few cases" of Covid-19, but added "the quarantine process is managed well".
"We are taking proactive safety measures to protect employees and associates who have been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed or becomes ill," he said.
As demand has "shifted from transport to delivery", Mr Mouchawar said Amazon has tapped into Careem and Uber drivers who have been laid off due to staffing cuts. "If we're able to use them, we are using them," he said, adding that the company is "hiring continuously".
The surge in e-commerce demand that Amazon Mena has seen since mid-March has been two-fold, Mr Mouchawar said: Covid-related items, such as hand sanitiser, cleaning materials, masks and gloves; and items related to stay-at-home and social distancing practices, such as groceries, laptops and sports equipment.
"As we change our habits to do a lot more things at home, we've seen the categories that are related to these activities definitely grow," he said.
The site also saw an uptick in the use of Prime, its paid membership service that offers free expedited shipping and Amazon Video content.
The number of third-party sellers, which are mainly small businesses, increased as well.
"This was one of the key avenues for them to reach their own customers as many were able to do delivery, but not serve customers in their own premises or stores," Mr Mouchawar said.
Before the pandemic online shopping was already increasing in the region and set to grow at around 40 per cent a year over the next five years, according to a McKinsey November report. It remains to be seen whether the current environment will spur growth further.
"We'll see post-Covid how things pan out, but we definitely see a shift in many customers – not only our existing customers in terms of their frequency, but also many new customers to e-commerce have come on board," Mr Mouchawar said.