Over 50 billion packages sent with priority service in 2017.
Hundreds of millions of customers all over the world.
An average of 70 minutes between the customer hitting the “Buy!” button to shipment of the product itself.
With stunning service and impressive customer satisfaction levels, Amazon never fails to amaze us.
Given these stats, it’s no surprise that this e-commerce colossus (with a capital C) is experiencing exponential year-on-year growth.
This truly global organisation owes its success to efficiency, punctuality and unparalleled organisation.
Yet at the beating heart of this online shopping beast is a physical location: the warehouse. This is the place where the user’s click becomes reality, where the object of our desires is packaged up and sent out for delivery.
And it’s organised completely at random, with the objects positioned in no particular order… hang on! Wait a minute.
That can’t be right. At random?
It can’t be random. A company that processes an order in an hour must at least have a meticulous storage policy.
But no – there is no mistake here.
It’s the truth. And it works!
Amazon and the law of chaos
Would you ever have thought that the Amazon warehouse – surely the most important physical location of all for Jeff Bezos’ company – would be organised completely at random?
Yet Amazon’s policy of storing goods without any apparent system seems to be delivering positive results in terms of efficacy and efficiency.
Let’s make one thing clear: random doesn’t mean messy. When they receive goods for storage in the warehouse, Amazon employees simply position them on the closest free shelf, following nothing more than a few general rules (large objects at the top, heavy objects at the bottom and no similar objects next to each other).
This apparently unstructured process is in fact backed up by super-sophisticated technology: every product in the Amazon warehouses is traced by a digital system that knows the exact position of every single object. By employing this extreme control process on entry, there is no need for Amazon to have specific sections for each type of product. Instead, they can position the goods wherever they like – storing a box of Oreo biscuits on the same shelf as a can of volumizing spray for tired hair, for example.
Amazon’s chaos not only reduces the time warehouse employees take to store products (according to rumours, 300 objects registered every hour is considered good performance) but also optimises a more delicate process: finding the objects!
Why? Here’s three reasons:
1. Scattering objects here and there gives you a better chance of finding them nearby
Spreading different products from the same family out across the warehouse increases the chance that you will have one within arm’s reach when you need one. That’s a big plus for employees, who only have a few minutes to process a request, find the product and prepare the package.
2. There’s no point storing en masse when you’re dealing with individual orders
It would make sense to store products in blocks of categories if Amazon were making bulk deliveries.
But given that almost all of Amazon’s orders are for individual products, what’s the point in storing all similar products together in one space? It’s much more sensible to spread them out across the warehouse in order to make it easier to get individual orders away.
3. Random storage optimises space and cuts costs
Imagine having a kitchen shelf for digestive biscuits, one for custard creams and one for chocolate biscuits. What would happen if you ran out of chocolate chip cookies one day? Basically, you’d have an empty shelf and you’d be wasting space. That’s why – when you scale it up to the nth degree – it doesn’t make sense for a huge company like Amazon to organise their warehouse in an overly rigid way. It’s much better to store things in the nearest space, thus making use of every free centimetre.
Long live chaos? Yes, but this chaos is only skin deep. Scratch the surface and you’ll see that everything is perfectly under control.