published Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Amazon in Chattanooga runs at top speed on Cyber Monday

Amazon Fulfillment center employees process inbound goods to add to the warehouse inventory during "Cyber Monday."A number of seasonal employees have been added to the already large staff of 2,000 at the Chattanooga fulfillment center.
Amazon Fulfillment center employees process inbound goods to add to the warehouse inventory during "Cyber Monday."A number of seasonal employees have been added to the already large staff of 2,000 at the Chattanooga fulfillment center.
Photo by Dan Henry.

BY THE NUMBERS

• More than 100 million -- Items shipped from Chattanooga's Amazon center in two years

• 28 -- Football fields that could fit into Chattanooga distribution center

• 3 -- Aircraft carriers that could occupy space inside the center

Source: Amazon

Poll
Will you place an Amazon order this month?

Bobby Wright expects to work about 60 hours this week at Chattanooga's Amazon distribution center as the company shifts into top gear to meet a holiday shopping crush that's setting new records for the site and online sales overall.

"It helps for Christmas," Wright said Monday about the overtime pay. "I've got kids, and I've got to do everything I can."

On Cyber Monday, the turnstiles employees use to enter the giant facility were churning. Several thousand workers at the Enterprise South industrial park center expected to handle more goods on any single day since the center opened in September 2011.

The nearly constant clapping of conveyors carrying goods and boxes across the giant fulfillment center -- it's the size of 28 football fields -- helped the nation's No. 1 Internet retailer keep pace with plans to exceed last year's 26.5 million orders companywide on Monday.

That's more than 306 orders per second, according to Amazon.

"It's our biggest shipping day of the year," said Amazon spokeswoman Kiesha Cochrane as she stood on a mezzanine overlooking scores of workers processing inbound goods in the 1.2 million-square-foot facility. "We're working at top speed today."

Much the same level of activity took place in Amazon's similarly sized Cleveland, Tenn., facility, which tends to handle larger goods such as televisions and lawnmowers, Cochrane said.

Employees arriving for work in time for the 8 a.m. shift at the Chattanooga center -- the vast majority of them carrying titles such as pickers, packers and shippers -- negotiated long lines of traffic. They tried to squeeze into the distribution center's mammoth parking lot, which appeared to be at least 80 percent full.

"We're staffed up," Cochrane said. "It will be busy through Christmas."

Over the Christmas shopping period, items such as bikes, video games and toys are among those expected to be in great demand, she said, adding that sales will run the gamut and the Chattanooga center services the entire country.

Online shopping already has gotten off to a strong start. Web analytics firm ComScore reported that U.S. Internet sales rose a total of 17.3 percent on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

According to ComScore, while Black Friday -- and now Thanksgiving Day -- was the traditional kick-off to the brick-and-mortar holiday shopping season, both days continue to grow in importance in terms of online sales.

That's even as overall holiday sales had a lukewarm launch. The National Retail Federation estimated retail sales fell by 2.7 percent from last year during the full Thanksgiving weekend to $57.4 billion. The average shopper spent $407.02, off nearly 6 percent because of lower prices.

Still, the federation reported that the number of Thanksgiving Day shoppers grew 27 percent over a year ago, as nearly 45 million people took advantage of special offers.

  • photo
    An Amazon Fulfillment center employee gift wraps packages during "Cyber Monday." A number of seasonal employees have been added to the already large staff of 2,000 at the Chattanooga fulfillment center.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Cochrane wouldn't say how many people are employed in Chattanooga, putting the number at "a few thousand" on the morning shift.

While many of the employees are seasonal workers, some of them will find permanent jobs at Amazon fulfillment centers after the holidays, Cochrane said.

"It depends on the need of the facility," she said, noting Amazon now has more than 40 such centers across the country, including four in Tennessee.

When President Barack Obama visited the Chattanooga facility this summer, Amazon put its headcount then in the city at 2,700 along with 800 more in Cleveland.

Employee Destiny Gott said Monday she was in her fourth week at the center. Some days were hectic, she said, and there was a lot of overtime.

Amazon spokeswoman Kerri Catallozzi said hiring was still going on at the Internet giant, as well.

"You can still find a job if you're looking for one," she said. "We're always trying to keep up with demand."

In addition to the variety of inventory at the center, a constant feature are bright yellow totes, or bins, that ride atop conveyor belts, one after the other. Catallozzi said the totes contain individual orders, electronically coded so customers receive what they've purchased.

"We're constantly innovating," she said.

That bent toward innovation was expressed by Amazon founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos during a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday in which he said the company is working on a way to get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less via a self-guided drones.

Amazon said it's working on the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project in its research and development labs. But the company said it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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