What I Learned Visiting an Amazon Fulfillment Center

Thoughts on my recent tour of an insanely large facility.

Introduction

I’ve been paying attention to Amazon since its inception—nearly 25 years. Researching my books, I’ve talked to ex-Amazon employees and yet, oddly, I have never set foot in an Amazon facility.

A few weeks ago, I decided to change that.

No, I didn’t stage a break-in. The e-commerce behemoth known for its secrecy offers public tours. Just sign up for one. Along with a group of 30 or so curious folks, I recently toured PHX6—a building the size of 32 football fields yet hardly one of Amazon’s largest.

Fulfillment Centers Are Freaking Enormous

Allow me to state the obvious: the place is crazy big. According to our tour guide, PHX6 is one of the smaller fulfillment centers in the country but I still couldn’t wrap my head around its size. It would probably take me five minutes to run from one end of the building to another.

Amazon Is Not Complacent

If Amazon is known for anything, customer-centricity and process improvement are certainly at the top of the list. Our tour guide pointed out several signs reminding employees that they can submit ideas designed to make things better. Make no mistake: One of the most valuable companies in the world is still hungry for more.

Amazon Controls Everything

Visitors cannot take their own photos for obvious reasons. A machine took the photo above at a designated spot. Afterward, people can easily allow Amazon to send the photo to an e-mail address or cell phone number.

Beyond that, ample signage reminds employees about company policies. I noticed plenty of cameras as well—no surprise given reports of employee theft. Also, our guide reminded us multiple times to stay in our lanes. If we veered from our paths or interrupted employees, we’d be leaving early.

Tech Is Everywhere

No, PHX6 doesn’t sport high-tech robots such as the ones seen below:

I’d be shocked, though, if robots didn’t arrive at PHX6 within the next few years. 

Beyond robots, the speed of the sorting machines and even the custom-built tape machines blew my mind. This is a company obsessed with technology and efficiency. 

Working at a Fulfillment Center Isn’t Easy

A few times, I peered down at workers furiously sorting packages. I didn’t ask about the alleged insane rules that employees need to follow but one thing was obvious: slackers and shirkers won’t last long at Amazon. As someone with back issues, I can’t envision standing on my feet all day. 

Simon Says: Take the tour. 

If you get a chance, take the 45-minute tour. Read all you like, seeing Amazon’s magic in person resonated with me differently than TV shows, books, and articles have. 

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