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Amazon Confidential: Week 8 – Incentives, Returns and Overtime

First there was Black Friday. Then Cyber Monday. Based on the incentives being offered by Amazon, all of us who worked that long weekend anticipated a mass confusion of pickers and stowers fighting for space in the long aisles of our Amazon fulfillment center. Turns out, things weren’t anywhere near as crazy as we thought they’d be. True, there were like 5-6 pickers for every stower, but in my mind’s eye it wasn’t as busy as we’d all expected.

So what were the incentives being offered you might ask? First of all I should say right off the bat, I didn’t win anything big. But management must have feared a mass walk out, so Associates who worked their ENTIRE shift on Power Days (Black Friday thru Cyber Monday) were entered into a daily raffle for (6) $100.00 Amazon gift certificates. It was a nice perk worth winning. I did receive several $5 gift cards to a local grocery store (not Walmart, considered to be a major competitor), one for meeting our 21 day forecast #’s. The other I think was for having no errors one night, but I’m not really sure. The $5 gift cards were being handed out like candy that night. Anything to keep us on task and focused.

Another big perk for the “Camperforce” workers: if we make it to the end of our last shift on our last scheduled work day… which we still don’t know when that will be… Amazon will pay us an extra $1 an hour for every hour worked over the last 3 months. Working fifty hour weeks, that adds up fast and will be a nice addition to my gas coffer as I head south for the winter.

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Stowing. As the weeks have passed, the nature of my stower’s job has changed a little. Much of what I do right now is involved with small orders and returns. Let’s say someone orders six spark plugs, but there are only four in stock at our fulfillment center. Instead of shipping the four from here to the customer, and the other two from a different fulfillment center, the company ships the two from elsewhere in the system to this fulfillment center where they arrive in a truck with other parts and supplies.

Those two spark plugs now have to be entered into our system by receiving and then go into a tote, which is where I come into the picture as a stower. I find a bin with empty space “somewhere” in this vast building where the spark plugs will be stowed away after I’ve scanned the UPC #’s and the bin # into my scanner.

The entire process seems like a great deal of wasted time and effort to me, because having gone thru all that, now a picker must come “find” the spark plugs that I stowed away, along with the four we already had … and retrieve them and send them all off to the shipping department. Surely there must be a more efficient way to handle multiple items?

Returns. Now that Peak Season is upon us, more items are being returned to Amazon after being received by the buyer. For whatever reason, whether not the right item or wrong color, they all have to be re-entered into the system once they are checked for damage and/or use (such as clothing and shoes). Once that is done, the items are sent off in a tote for a stower to find a spot for them in a bin somewhere on a shelf in the warehouse, where they will wait until someone else buys them online. According to the online Amazon returns policy, “You may return most new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon.com within 30 days of delivery for a full refund.” I’m a little surprised at how many returns we get.

Wed. night, Overtime. There seems to be another disconnect tonight between management here, and headquarters in Seattle. During our nightly meeting, our floor managers mention they will probably be calling VTO (voluntary time off) tonight as we only have X thousands of items to stow away. We don’t have to take VTO but some stowers do sign up to take it if offered, which makes no sense to me. Why go home early on a night you’re supposed to be making overtime?

So product started slowing down after our 10pm dinner hour. My area ran out and I was transferred to another area, which also ran out. People kept waiting for VTO to be called, but it never was. Then a new truck showed up full of merchandise and we were busy the rest of the night. Go figure? Since Seattle handles all the routing of the trucks, wouldn’t they have told our managers a truck was on the way? So why sign people up for VTO?

Signs of a Pick-Up. The most obvious sign that holiday sales have picked up for us stowers are the number of holes showing up in bins here and there. This is making our stowing job easier as we don’t have to hunt so hard to find places to stow our merchandise… and our production numbers should be increasing, right? Except our floor manager tells us Friday at our nightly meeting that our numbers are off. A few minutes later “her” boss tells us we’re doing a great job. So which is it folks? Can’t you at least get the message right?

The discrepancies in the messages we receive leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t take my floor manager’s remarks very seriously. They are delivered with a lot of condescension on her part, and sometimes the distinct feeling she is just going thru the motions. Sadly, no one really takes “her” boss’s compliments very seriously either. If we were doing such a good job, why does he allow her to run us down? Perhaps he tells us we’re doing a good job out of pity. Perhaps he doesn’t even listen to what she says… which is why none of us do either.

See Part One of Amazon Confidential: Confessions of a Warehouse Worker, Part Two, The Hardening Process, Part Three, The Amazon Weight Loss Program, Part Four, The Investment Strategy, Part Five, Who Needs Whom?, Part Six, The Pink Hand of Fate, Part Seven Ghost Walkers and the Rule of Three and and Part Nine, The Peak of Power.

dsteiner

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