Amazon’s logistical operation has become the example that all other delivery companies want to emulate. The teams at Amazon have developed extremely efficient means of delivering packages in two days. The company has begun offering same-day delivery in many locations and hopes to expand that service throughout the country.
Amazon uses more than one method of delivery. Amazon’s Research and Development (R&D) operation is continuously refining, reworking, and experimenting with new, faster ways of packaging and bringing your online orders to your door as fast as possible.
How Most Delivery Companies Operate
Most traditional delivery systems use a hub and method. The hub is the focus of the operation.
Drivers pick up packages and deliver them to a hub. For international deliveries or items that are shipped to the United States from abroad, the package gets dropped off at the airport hub. From there, the package is shipped to the closest carrier hub in the United States. The package gets picked up, processed at the warehouse, and placed in a truck for onward delivery to the customer.
Traditional delivery times are generally 5-7 business days. The package may get delivered to the hub well before that, but depending on where you live, your area may not receive a lot of deliveries. The truck assigned to your area might sit in the warehouse with your package in it waiting for more packages going to your neighborhood. The fuller the truck is, the more money the shipper makes per truck delivery.
Weather, traffic, and other factors can affect delivery too, which is why the shippers usually advertise “5-7” days rather than give you a specific date of arrival.
The Amazon Way
Amazon, over time, has developed their own methods of delivery, with the ultimate goal, which Amazon ingenuity has begun to make happen, of same-day delivery or an even sooner (within xx minutes of ordering, for example) delivery.
Strong organization and management have allowed Amazon to evolve their distribution system over the years to one of the most efficient in the industry.
Amazon uses a combination of manpower and technology, and careful planning, to meet the 2-day shipping maximum.
One reason Amazon can deliver items with remarkable speed is the company’s warehouse operations. Amazon has enormous warehouses where the company stocks thousands of items. The system is designed for “pickers” (workers responsible for locating and selecting the right items for each order), work in concert with robots and other forms of technology to very quickly grab, pack, and send items out for delivery.
Amazon does not use a single delivery system. Whatever delivers the package faster determines the type of delivery service. In New York, for example, Amazon has couriers that use the subway to avoid the massive traffic jams common in big cities. They use bicycle couriers, delivery personnel traveling on foot, or whatever works.
Careful planning and management help make the process work. In winter, for example, the warehouses in the North East of the country have many more ice scrapers, snow shovels, and cans of window-washing fluid. In the summer, garden tools and outdoor furniture tend to proliferate on the shelves and bins.
A secret to Amazon shipments by air relates to volume. Amazon sells so many items in such massive quantities that the company has been able to sign special agreements with air transport carriers. Amazon products can be delivered to an airport abroad, put on a plane, and arrive at an Amazon facility in the U.S. within 24 hours. Costs are kept down due to the volume of items overall Amazon orders and ships from foreign manufacturers and retailers.
Amazon also carefully locates the warehouses to maximize shipping efficiency. For example, Amazon deliberately locates a distribution center within a few minutes’ drive of a FedEx terminal. Amazon can pick up packages and move them through the shipping process and out to the customer the same day the package arrives at the airport, often within a couple of hours.
Amazon Flex Drivers
Amazon has further improved and minimized delivery times by introducing flex drivers. Several years ago, Amazon began hiring holiday drivers who used their own vehicles to deliver packages during the busy holiday season.
Eventually, Amazon began inviting some drivers to participate in a “flex drive” program. These drivers contract individually with Amazon to deliver packages, concentrating on everyday household products ordered frequently.
Flex drivers work in a way similar to the Uber taxi service. The drivers use an app and sign up for a shift to pick up smaller packages for delivery.
Amazon recently announced yet another service to make delivery quicker and easier. Called Amazon Key, this allows the company to deliver packages whether someone is at home. The customer needs an Amazon camera and compatible smart lock to allow the delivery person to leave the package inside the door.
This will not only protect the package from thieves who steal from doorsteps but also avoids return trips for items that need someone to be home for the delivery.
The Amazon Drone program has received significant publicity since news of the program first leaked to the media several years ago.
Although there are lots of issues remaining before drone deliveries become common, this is a classic example of how Amazon tries to constantly improve delivery times.
Since this program was first announced, the technology has improved drastically. Just a few years ago drones could only carry a package that weighed about five pounds. Today, manufacturers have begun building drones that can carry several hundred pounds.
Some estimate that ultimately, with drone technology, Amazon will be able to deliver your package within 30 minutes of ordering.
The Future: Drone Hives
Amazon reportedly has plans to develop drone hive warehouses. The concept drawings reflect a large, hive-shaped structure with take off and landing pads every few feet vertically and horizontally around the structure. The sorting, packaging, and delivery would take place at one location.
Ultimately, despite public pronouncements to the contrary, Amazon appears to be developing a low-cost, speedy, internal delivery system directly integrated with warehousing. Some in the industry claim Amazon may acquire or build an air fleet so the company will no longer need to contract out to companies like FedEx.
Whatever the future of shipping may be, Amazon will likely continue to be one of the industry innovating pioneers.