Amazon Building Warehouses Everywhere, Hopes Christmas Gifts Actually Arrive By Christmas

Holiday time is shopping time in America, and millions of families turn to Amazon to get their gifts. But last year, Santa’s sleigh had some trouble getting where it needed to be on time: last-minute buying, bad weather, and snafus at UPS and FedEx meant plenty of presents were still in transit when kids went looking under the tree in the morning. Some Christmas delivery miracles occurred, but Amazon still had to issue plenty of apologies, refunds, discounts, and Prime extensions. But Amazon is determined not to see a repeat in 2014, if their year of planning and building pans out.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports on the extensive planning that’s been going on at Amazon in order to make sure every customer gets their packages of holiday cheer on time. Even Amazon, as large and diverse a company as they are, can’t do much about winter storms or natural disasters — but they can build flexibility and redundancy to deal with pretty much everything else.

And that’s what they’ve been doing, as they open new facilities around the country and the world. In addition to 38 new fulfillment centers (i.e. giant warehouses full of stuff) Amazon has open around the country, they’ve opened 15 “sortation centers” to go with.

These smaller (but still huge) facilities exist for, well, sorting. Instead of having every package go straight to a shipping partner, like UPS, FedEx, or the Postal Service, Amazon instead sorts them by ZIP code first. That allows them flexibility if something goes awry. For example, if UPS were to experience major delays in one region, Amazon would know which packages to hand over to another shipper instead.

The online retailing behemoth is also exploring alternatives that don’t involve the big shipping companies at all, BusinessWeek adds. In a handful of cities, particularly Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Amazon’s been experimenting with their own delivery fleet. Forget the man in brown: your Amazon package arrives at your door in an Amazon truck with an Amazon driver.

The CEO of the company that did the research analysis explained to BusinessWeek that last year, “UPS was a single point of failure. Amazon was so married to them. Now if they get into a situation where five days into the holidays and UPS says ‘no mas,’” the sortation system gives them flexibility to work with the situation.

Amazon also tries to avoid bottlenecks with the big three shipping organizations by working with a number of smaller, regional delivery and courier services, especially near warehouses. (Yours truly sees the LaserShip van drop off a dozen Amazon boxes to neighbors nearly every morning.) These companies are also not flawless, but still provide flexible options that Amazon can choose to use or not to use depending on the circumstance.

Of course, these new warehouses are not evenly dotted around the country. Residents of the rural west are mostly out of luck, but Amazon shoppers in the major cities of the West Coast, up and down the Mississipi, and especially in the Northeast Corridor are fairly likely to live near one. But there’s always something: even living next door to an Amazon facility won’t spare you from some deepy questionable packaging.

Amazon’s Grand Plan to Avoid Holiday Delivery Snafus Again [Bloomberg Businessweek]

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