Rule changes to one of Amazon's major programs for small sellers have driven many Orthodox Jews out of the program, confirming their fears when the rules were first announced.
The changes to Seller Fulfilled Prime—billed as improving Amazon customer experience—have made acceptable performance metrics harder to achieve. As the Washington Free Beacon reported last February, Orthodox Jewish sellers are especially hard hit by six-day shipping requirements that make it more difficult to observe the Sabbath and maintain high one-day shipping numbers. Orthodox Jews make up a disproportionate number of the small sellers on the retail platform, with one estimate suggesting they are 15 percent of all small sellers. At the time, participants warned the changes would drive them off the platform.
Months later, those fears are being validated. One informal poll in a private group of Seller Fulfilled Prime participants found only 5 percent of users understood how to meet the new metrics. Another poll found over half of a group of Orthodox Jewish participants had been suspended from the program in the past two months.
The Seller Fulfilled Prime program allows small sellers to list their own items for Amazon Prime. But in February, Amazon required that sellers list items for two-day delivery on six days of the week. Orthodox Jews cannot work on Saturday, and many sellers report local carriers will not pick up packages on Sunday.
One Orthodox Jewish seller who asked not to be named said his shipping costs had jumped since the rule change, and that he was eliminating expensive items from Prime in response. "I don't understand what Amazon gains by shutting out millions of items from SFP," he said. Other sellers complained that Amazon had put the additional pressure to satisfy consumers on them, rather than lobbying UPS and other carriers to ship items on Sunday.
Amazon describes the changes as needed to improve the Prime experience for customers by further standardizing when packages are received. One seller told the Free Beacon that the driving force behind the changes was consumer demand: "They think if they order it Friday, they will get it on Wednesday." But the changes have also driven speculation, with some sellers alleging that Amazon is purposefully looking to squeeze them off the platform. Others fear that Amazon would prefer sellers to use programs that require items be shipped to an Amazon warehouse first so that the seller can't also list items on Amazon rivals like Walmart.
Saul Cohen, who mainly sells large items like cribs for babies, said the rule change hasn't affected him as much as it has sellers of smaller objects, who will lose more money by rush shipping across the country. "That's a very large group, obviously," he said.
Orthodox Jews have asked Amazon to allow them to toggle the Prime designation off during the weekend, but Amazon has resisted and announced it will suspend accounts from the program that regularly turn off Prime. One small seller reported an Amazon SFP agent told him that Amazon "would come after" anyone avoiding turning on Prime on the weekends. An organization lobbying Amazon on behalf of sellers said the company is stonewalling and has not responded to multiple messages.
Some Orthodox sellers are considering a religious workaround that would involve selling a portion of their business to a non-Jew who can work on Saturdays. But it would be a radical and probably illicit step, says Rabbi Yosef Kushner of the Bais HaVaad Halacha Center.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Updated April 8, 2021, to clarify that "Amazon has resisted and announced it will suspend accounts from the program that regularly turn off Prime."