Amazon's automated warehouses push limits of quick shipping
The response time was part of the logistics that Amazon showed off in a rare tour inside its Ruskin "fulfillment center" Wednesday. Nearly 18 months after opening the 1 million-square-foot facility, the center employs 2,500 people year-round.
Inside, robotic yellow shelves identify products and move independently to the foot of an Amazon employee. Employees put the products into bins, then onto conveyor belts where other employees pack it into boxes or envelopes.
Facilities such as the ones in Lakeland and Ruskin are the crux of Amazon's nationwide push to put its products in the hands of customers at the pace they want, said Chris Monnot, general manager of Amazon's Ruskin Fulfillment Center.
"Our goal is to ship the customer whatever they want, at whatever time they want it, in the fastest way possible," Monnot said.
Amazon has 50 of the fulfillment centers nationwide and is experimenting with drone delivery to cut down on shipping time.
The Ruskin facility was the first of two fulfillment centers opened in Central Florida; another in Lakeland opened in August 2015. The Lakeland facility, with 800 employees, handles large products such as diapers, toilet paper and televisions, Monnot said.
Amazon also has a "sortation center" in Davenport, where it sorts packages by ZIP code before delivery to the U.S. Postal Service. It opened in late 2014.
"People want their stuff quickly and they don't care why it's not delivered fast," said Nathan Hirsch, founder of Orlando e-commerce outsourcing company FreeeUp. "I think all the market places are starting to realize that and Amazon is been pushing the hardest."
Amazon's warehouse is filled with a combination of its own goods and those sold by partner "Fulfilled by Amazon" sellers.
Hirsch started selling as a Fulfilled by Amazon seller six years ago, a program where third-party companies market their products on Amazon.com and they are stocked in Amazon warehouses.
"I actually started out when I was 20 years old selling books from the dump, and then moved into textbooks," Hirsch said. "Now I sell baby toys and games."
Hirsch said working within Amazon's business structure is a fast-paced, high demand world. Customers now expect their product to arrive in one or two days.
Amazon's own membership Prime program promises free two-day shipping in many products. And last year Amazon launched one-day shipping on some products in the Orlando area for Prime members.
Winter Park's Ricardo Cuevas used Amazon to launch his product that helps teach small children Spanish. He now sells his Kid Start Spanish program through Fulfilled by Amazon. He's expanded to a few imported gadgets such as selfie sticks and Apple Watch bands.
Cuevas, who works full-time in the mobile communications industry, said he has to respond lightning-fast to customers. He hosts a local meet up for Fulfilled by Amazon sellers as well.
He said it is taking increasing work to keep up with demands from online customers.
"If someone has a complaint I almost always send them a new item, no matter whose fault it is," Cuevas said. "People's expectations are very high."