Amazon: Behind the Scenes

How to Get a Amazon Package to your Doorstep

You order a decorative new tapestry to hang up on your bedroom wall. In just two short days, your wall will no longer be empty. You are overjoyed at how simple the process is. You go to Amzaon.com, search “tapestry”, pick your favorite design, add the product to your cart, checkout and enter a credit card, and in two days there is a small, brown box on your doorstep.

The order to delivery process is often unquestioned since Amazon makes your order seem effortless. However, it requires a ton of effort.

The first step of the buying process is logging in to your Amazon account. Each user account has a personalized layout, making everyone’s experience unique and exciting. An algorithm changes the layout based on previous searches and past purchases. There is even a section which recommends products you may like.

“Amazon knows you by name and tries to be your personal shopper”, exclaims Julia Layton, a writer for HowStuffWorks.

One of Amazon’s algorithms recommends products that you might like based on past purchases.-via Kissmetrics

Once you find the perfect product, thanks to Amazon’s specialized recommendations and wide range of products, click “Add to Shopping Cart”. From there, you are redirected to a checkout page where you input shipping and billing information. Finally, select your ideal shipping option and click the final confirmation button to order.

Amazon’s Backend System

Once the confirmation button has been pressed, Amazon’s backend system takes over. Depending on who you are ordering from, processing can go directly through Amazon’s fulfillment centers or through a third-party retailer. If the order is from a third-party seller like Nordstrom or Target, it is routed directly to Amazon.com. Basically, Amazon leases website space to these retailers and Amazon makes profit off them. However, most orders are handled directly in Amazon’s warehouses located around the world.

Amazon’s secret weapon is its algorithm which are processes to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations especially by a computer and also its fulfillment centers.

Each Amazon warehouse is “stocked based on algorithms that predict the types and number of products being ordered in that region”. These algorithms and fulfillment centers set Amazon apart from other providers. They allow Amazon to deliver at lightning speed and keep the prices cheap for customers. The backend routes the order to the closest fulfillment center, where a picker finds it. The desired product is packaged up and placed in a delivery truck specific to the shipping option selected. The time it takes between the confirmation to the placement in the delivery trick is only a few minutes.

Fulfillment Centers

Let’s take a closer look at fulfillment centers. Once an online order is placed, it is directly connected to an “picker’s” handheld scanner or “pick mod” which directs the employee to the area where each item is located. It is intriguing that items are not organized in any specific way. They are placed in shelves by random since the location is automatically sent to the pick mod.

The picker scans the item, places it in a tote, scans the tote, and then places it on a conveyor belt. The conveyor system is made up of ramps, long straightaways, and towering corkscrews to get prepped for shipping. Fulfillment centers are all about efficiency so their conveyor belts move fast!

Jillian D’Onfro and Madeline Stone, writers for BusinessInsider proclaims, “The one in Campbellsville, Kentucky handles 426 orders per second”.

The conveyor belt system moves at lighting speed. Each yellow tote is one order. -via CNBC

Next, the “packers” take the tote off the conveyor belt and place the items in Amazon boxes. An algorithm tells the packer which box would be best suited for each order. “Amazon packers are told to treat every package like it’s someone’s Christmas present.” This ensures each package will be packed neatly and carefully.

Once the box is packed and sealed, it is placed on another conveyor belt beneath a labeling machine that prints and places mailing labeled in one motion. Then, orders are sent down large chutes to be loaded onto trucks. Packing the delivery trucks is like a life-size game of Tetris because boxes are packed tightly and straight so many can fit.

“Anything that can be automated by an algorithm, is. An Amazon fulfillment center is like a giant Robot”, explains Jillian D’Onfro and Madeline Stone, writers for Business Insider. Since the large warehouses takes a toll on its workers, Amazon added 15,000 Kiva robots to 10 fulfillment centers in 2014. Between the thousands of robots and employees, order and delivery speed is extremely efficient. Amazon’s robotic shelves allow more products to be packaged in a tighter space.

The shelves easily glide across the floor so employees do not have to walk far to find an item which increases productivity. These robots are beneath each shelf, controlling its movement. These robots are helpful, but they cannot replace humans alone because human have intuitive understanding and fine motor skills.

Here are 5 of the thousands of Kiva robots in the fulfillment centers. You can see them beneath each shelf in the top of the photo, gliding the shelves to the pickers to increase efficiency.-via Wired
Watch how the Kiva Robots glide across the floor!-via Youtube

Amazon is Rethinking Delivery

Looking toward the future, Amazon wants to get your order to your doorstep in a matter of minutes! Do you think Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping option is fast enough? Think again. Amazon unveiled a new drone prototype for Amazon Primer Air which would deliver products to consumers in 30 minutes or less.

This drone has characteristics of a helicopter and plane and can fly up to 15 miles. When the order is confirmed, the customer places an Amazon logo on their property. When the drone reaches the target, it scans the area and releases the package. However, this mode of transporting packages is still in its research and development phase. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road”, adds Julia Layton, a writer for HowStuffWorks.

This video demonstrates how Amazon’s Drones work when dropping off a package.-via Youtube

Amazon is an e-commerce world leader because of their “excellent customer service, competitive prices, fast shipping, wide selection and effective digital marketing”. Amazon’s focus is on efficiency and technology. The order to packing process all happens in a matter of minutes. Additionally, robots and employees work together to ensure faster processing in the fulfillment centers. Amazon is even considering faster shipping options. They are constantly rethinking ways of performing tasks so their methods appear effortless.

Next time you order your new dish soap or headphones for the gym, think about all the overlooked steps it took to get to you!