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How an Amazon One-Click order gets to your doorstep

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

Roughly $4 out of $10 spent online in the U.S. is now spent on Amazon (AMZN) — an impressive stat, no matter how you slice it. 

In fact, between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday this year, 140 million products were ordered from and fulfilled by third-party sellers via Amazon, Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke told Yahoo Finance recently. That kind of influence and scale helps explain why Yahoo Finance’s editors selected the Seattle tech giant as this year’s Company of the Year, joining past winners such as Facebook (FB), Disney (DIS), and Nvidia (NVDA). (See our timeline on Amazon’s path to domination in 2017.)

Customers’ orders travel miles of brisk-moving conveyor belts at any one of the 75-plus Amazon fulfillment centers in the U.S. Source: Yahoo Finance

But have you ever wondered how a One-Click order actually gets to your doorstep? We did, too. So this fall, Yahoo Finance visited an Amazon fulfillment center in Tracy, California, to learn more. The sprawling 1.2 million square foot facility, located about 60 miles outside of San Francisco, is just one of the 75-plus fulfillment centers Amazon has in the U.S. But it sees millions of items come through its door every year from third-party merchants.

Much of the work done at Amazon’s fulfillment centers this season will be accomplished by 120,000 seasonal workers, who are quickly trained in the ins and outs of Amazon’s warehouses. According to Alex Ries, an operations manager at the Tracy, California fulfillment center, Amazon has the training down to a science. In fact, seasonal workers can be trained in as little as two days.

“When they come on the floor, they are very quickly trained on the actual job itself,” explained Ries. “We are doing that pretty much from their day one, and the first week will be dedicated to them learning the job.”

So when the moment comes for you to click “Buy” on Amazon.com, Amazon’s computer algorithms jump into action and tell one of the hundreds of robots at one of Amazon’s warehouses to pick up the shelf with that item. The robot brings the shelf to an employee, who is waiting to pick that item at a so-called “pick station” and puts it into a yellow bin, which Amazon employees call a “tote.”

An Amazon employee waiting at a “pick station” to pick an item from a shelf and put it in a yellow bin, or “tote.” Source: Yahoo Finance

After the employee puts that item in a tote — along with items for several other customer orders, for efficiency’s sake — they’ll send that tote on its way via miles of brisk-moving conveyor belts to a “pack station,” where items are packaged up. 

An Amazon fulfillment center worker getting ready to package a customer’s order. Source: Yahoo Finance

Once an employee packages up that item in the right-sized box — a recommendation made by a computer on a display screen — it goes another set of conveyor belts to a SLAM (Scan, Label, Apply, Manifest) machine, which is the final quality-control check to make sure the packaging meets quality-control standards.

An Amazon fulfillment center SLAM machine scans item and applies a shipping label as part of the final quality-assurance check. Source: Yahoo Finance

The machine also applies a label to that package with that customer’s shipping information, before going along another series of conveyor belts — the final leg of the journey to a delivery truck.

The rest, as Amazon customers know well enough, is history. Depending on the shipping method they’ve selected, the order could arrive on their doorstep in two days or less.

Click here to learn more about why Amazon was selected by Yahoo Finance’s editors as Company of the Year for 2017, find out more about Amazon’s culture and discover the company’s plans for its popular voice assistant Alexa.

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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