25 things I learned visiting an Amazon FBA warehouse
I live in Los Angeles and the ONT2 and ONT5 Amazon FBA warehouse in San Bernardino is only about an hour or so away from me. So I went online and searched for the website to schedule my tour and promptly add my name to the list.
The process was super smooth and they do a great job of reminding you about the upcoming visit but also about the rules while you are inside and what you should wear that day for safety.
So with a hearty breakfast, some form fitting hipster khakis and my white Chuck Taylors….I was ready to hit the tour.
Here are 25 things I learned visiting an Amazon FBA warehouse.
Warehouse locations are usually outside of large metro areas
San Bernardino is not in Los Angeles. It’s not too far but no too close either.
It is just close and far enough away to matter for all the right logistical reasons for Amazon. Land is cheaper but still close to airports and railroads.
More room for sprawling warehouse square footage and a bigger chance to make a lasting economic impact on communities, Amazon usually finds the sweet spot in every place they land.
Amazon FBA warehouses create communities around them
I couldn’t help but notice as I drove up to the warehouse all of the supporting business and big name companies that were uniquely positioned right next to Amazon.
You had barber shops, restaurants, logistic companies, power plants, realty offices and major brands like Pepsico.
It was very clear that Amazon creates a network effect of small to medium business activity around every FBA warehouse they build. It was also clear that those businesses appreciated the activity.
Amazon FBA warehouse employees seemed happy and driven
While our group was waiting inside the warehouse to be let in past security I had a chance to speak to a few different employees. Some of them knew I was there for the tour, but some did not.
They all seemed really happy to be there. I asked one worker how far is the farthest that an employee would drive to work at the warehouse and he quickly rattled off a bunch of names of co-workers who traveled up to 1 or 1.2 hours to get to the warehouse each day.
Security is tight…like Pentagon tight.
I was a little taken aback by how complete the security was at the front entrance. You don’t see it as you are walking through the actual warehouse but the entrance is something akin to Ft. Knox.
Big sweeping gates with circular entrances made of bars that you can’t go through until you scan your employee ID badge.
Trade secrets and products are guarded with government like fever.
Tour guides love what they are doing
We had 3 tour guides for our group of 25-30 people and they were very happy and proud to be working for Amazon. You could feel it in every word they spoke as they described the entire inflow/outflow process of packages throughout the tour.
Of the guides you had an MC (the one talking throughout the tour and answering questions) and then a rear and forward tour guide for safety.
The warehouses are named after airport codes
Every Amazon FBA warehouse is near an airport the codes that are given to idetify them are usually assigned relative to the nearest airport.
ONT2 & ONT5 are given their names in relation to the nearby Ontario airport. Side note: I have had the pleasure of flying out of Ontario before and it’s dreamy. Much better then Burbank or LAX.
FBA warehouses are big
ONT2 & ONT5 are combined facilities and just ONT2 clocks in at 1,200,000 square feet. It is the first ever Amazon FBA warehouse built in California and is a “small sort” facility.
So no office desks, lawn mowers or refrigerators flowing through this place.
It was opened in 2012 and has 10 miles of conveyance belts running and looping throughout the building.
Not every Amazon FBA warehouse uses robotics
This location was one of many that doesn’t even use robotics. There was a sister location not too far away from ONT2 that does leverage robotics in the warehouse but this one didn’t.
The tour guide talked excitedly about robotics and some of the things they do for Amazon but wasn’t too heartbroken that their facility wasn’t using them.
FBA warehouses are super clean
I could not believe how clean the warehouse was. It was like a Home Depot on a Sunday morning before the homeowner crowd hit.
The floors were spotless, the desks were clean, all the floors had crisp and cleanly marked aisles and walkways. It really was a model for how to keep your workplace clean and ready.
The inside looks like an Ikea on steroids
On top of being super clean, the inside is super colorful which I imagine helps keeping every one of the employees safe.
Amazon Yellow is the predominant color inside the FBA warehouse. The whole place is awash in it.
It was very Willy Wonka in a good logistical way.
A lot of warehouses do the tours
I was surprised to find out that 26 warehouses out of their total US footprint do these tours. They even do them in Europe.
It’s Amazon’s best interests to show their best look to the public but nothing really felt dishonest or ingenuine about the tour, ever.
You get to see the entire process from start to finish
The tour starts out showing how Amazon employees store products and also pick them and then you are taken through the entire process from the moment the customer purchases the item to the moment it slides down the conveyance belt into the semi truck on its way to its location
Items go wherever there is room
After many years of refinement it was decided the best way to store items was to just find an available empty slot in the storage bins on each row.
This may seem a little chaotic but the magic is in the barcodes and the scan guns.
Every employee carries around a Symbol scan gun after they place a small item in a particular open spot, they scan it’s barcode location and ties it to the product.
Items are not separated by condition type or Amazon vs FBA
This was a real surprise to me but after I thought about it, it made more sense. Items are also not grouped together either.
A quick glance down any of the aisles and you will see soup ladles next to Xbox controllers. This speaks to the retail arbitrage movement right now and Amazon’s ability to effectively support hundreds of thousands of 3rd party FBA sellers.
Books still have a special place in Bezos’s heart
Books are the only item separated from the other items and they are organized into huge sections called “libraries”. Duh!
When asked why, the tour guide said that they want to ensure the books are handled with care.
Every product goes into yellow plastic bins
Because this is a small sort facility, everything MUST fit onto a small, plastic yellow bin. This is to ensure that the item is protected from the conveyance belts for damage but also to ensure the item isn’t too large and does not belong in the warehouse.
At one point in the conveyance stretch, packages in the yellow bins are traveling 25 miles per hour. ⚡️
Packaging items to ship is a science
One of my favorite parts of the tour is seeing the long line of workers at their workbenches grabbing product out of the yellow bins and putting it in an Amazon box to be ready for shipping.
I have the image burned into my mind now and I plan on replicating the workbench area as much as possible for my FBA business.
What was so special about it?
Well for starters, the conveyance belt runs right along side the workers and their benches so they can just grab any one of them and pull it for packing.
Next they scan the UPC code of the product and Amazon tells the worker what box they should use to pack it and the worker grabs the corresponding box from the nearby slot the flat box is stored near their bench.
This is why you see big codes on their boxes like A1, etc.
At the same time, a big tape gun with a reservoir tank spits out a pre-cut and wet piece of tape that is perfectly sized for the box they need.
It’s very magical!
Products that move fast are on pallets and more ready for movement
Besides books, the only product that is separated are the really fast moving ones. Onces that they sell 200-500 a day of.
Think Makita hand power tools or the Xbox Fortnite game.
They sell so many of them that the manufacturer ships the product to Amazon on pallets and Amazon plucks them right off the top of each pallet for processing.
Machines affix shipping labels with a puff of air, not a swipe or slam
This was pretty cool to see as the packages went whizzing by us on the conveyor belts.
After passing by a Terminator like red scan that picks up the barcode on each box, a flat like lever extends down and seals a shipping label on the package with a force push of air.
One of the quality control measures Amazon uses to ensure they have the right product going out is by leveraging its weight. And it’s hypersensitive.
Sending in a DVD and the disc is missing?
Amazon knows it and that package is bumped off the conveyor belt for a second inspection by hand and then tossed if the disc is missing.
Half the warehouse was filled with flat empty boxes
Amazon ships billions of packages and needs boxes for that. They are slowly trying to encourage manufacturers to ship their products in more “ship friendly” boxes so Amazon doesn’t even have to box it but that is a work-in-progress.
I have never seen so many flat boxes on pallets in my life.
They recycle your boxes you send in
At one point in the tour someone asked why there was there was a conveyor belt carrying empty boxes away.
The tour guide explained that the empties go off to a recycler plant and get spit back out into the world in various different ways. Nothing is wasted or squandered in the warehouse.
Safety is a big deal…
One of the most interesting items sprinkled around the warehouse were vending machines.
But these vending machines didn’t have Snickers or cans of Coke in them. They had safety gloves, exacto blades and hair nets, etc.
All the Amazon employee has to do is walk up to one and scan his ID badge and press a button and a pair of new work gloves drops down like a candy bar. 🤯
Career choice is important
There are many perks for working at Amazon in the warehouses and they go out of there way to educate and pay for education after you have worked for them past 1 year.
I asked one of the tour guides why he is doing tours and he said it was something he wanted to try and Amazon gave him the option to do so.
Amazon is organized and they want you to be too
If you are a 3rd party FBA seller than it’s time to get your 💩 together. They want your business and your products but the more lean and mean you or your business is, the better you will get along with Amazon.