The coronavirus pandemic is impacting every step of retailers’ fulfillment operations from the beginning of the supply chain to the delivery on a shopper’s doorstep.

For adult diapers retailer NorthShore Care Supply, adjusting to the pandemic was a daily, sometimes hourly, task in the beginning—especially since it also was in the process of moving to a bigger fulfillment center. But things are finally beginning to calm down, says Adam Greenberg, the retailer’s owner.

The surge came after President Trump declared a state of emergency in the U.S. on March 13. Sales skyrocketed 250% year over year for the four days following that announcement, with shoppers buying six month’s to a year’s worth of supplies at a time, Greenberg says. A normal adult diaper and wipes supply purchase is about one month’s worth, he says. However, for the month of March, the retailer experienced a 50% surge in online sales compared with March 2019 and 20% growth in April year over year, NorthShore Care Supply says.

What NorthShore Care experienced was on trend with the ecommerce industry as a whole. The number of ecommerce orders increased nearly 47% in the last 30 days ended April 20 compared with February, according to logistics vendor Narvar Inc., which has more than 650 retail clients in its network.

Last-mile technology vendor Convey reports similar spikes. From April 1-May 17, the year-over-year increase in shipments was 54.4%, according to the vendor’s data, which is based on 130 retail clients. In fact, every week starting Feb. 10, shipment volume was elevated compared with the year-ago week, with the exception of April 13-19.

With such an increase in orders, shipping delays are also escalating. Retailers are taking an average of 1.5 days longer than normal to fulfill orders, according to Narvar data. This is likely because of staffing challenges, says Narvar’s CEO and founder Amit Sharma, such as employees calling in sick and retailers implementing social distancing regulations in warehouses, which may slow efficiency.

Convey’s retail clients also have taken longer to fulfill orders, and it’s gradually grown worse as the pandemic has continued, says Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, Convey’s chief growth officer.

Delays are more pronounced for large products, or products that are more than 150 lbs. or more than 48 inches in length, such as a large piece of furniture or large appliances. For those orders, the average time it is taking for a retailer to deliver shoppers’ orders has more than doubled in the past 6 weeks to an average of 68 hours now, up from 32 hours at the start of March, according to Convey data.

“This is an indicator of supply chain slowdowns because these bigger items are not as often held in inventory, and instead are ‘made to order’ once the shopper makes the purchase versus fulfilling the order out of existing inventory,” Newbold-Knipp says. “If any of the suppliers along the supply chain shut down or slow down, it impacts the overall production time.”

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