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One of my personal highlights of this year’s CES Conference (#CES3KY) was the informal visit to the Jeffersonville, IN Amazon Fulfillment Center. After blogging extensively about Amazon – and trying like mad to keep up with all the various locations of Amazon fulfillment centers – it was exciting to see what all the fuss is about.
Amazon doesn’t allow for picture taking in the fulfillment centers, or even cell phones outside of your pocket, so I’m doing my best to describe what I saw and heard from memory and the notes I frantically scribbled afterward!
Jeffersonville, IN Amazon Fulfillment Center Tour Recap
Jeffersonville (SDF8) is a softlines fulfillment center, meaning they deal mostly in apparel and other soft and floppy goods.
When our tour group first arrived we were met by our guide, who also happened to be a famous person: former Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Andre Woodson!
We were first taken into a training room where we watched a short video about Amazon and were given headsets in order to listen to the tour. It was a good thing, too, because – as you would expect from such a busy, industrial place – SDF8 is LOUD.
The Jeffersonville Amazon fulfillment center employs almost 2500 people during non-peak season (6-7,000 during peak season!) and holds over 30 million items, so you can imagine what a big and busy place it is. It’s a 7th generation warehouse with four stories, a 1.2 million square foot footprint and over 2.5 million square feet of usable space. The tour followed products backward in their journey through the warehouse, so we started at the point where they ship out to the customer and ended at their arrival at the fulfillment center.
Our first stop was the station where items are sorted and sent out to trucks. Boxes are sent one way and envelopes/polymailers another. We saw machines sort out any packages that had a problem so that workers could deal with them. And we saw boxes scoot by conveyor belt over to different truck bays, where robotic feet kicked them off at the right spot.
Next, we went over to stations where employees were polybagging items from within stacks of big yellow bins. I don’t actually remember seeing items getting boxed up, but that could just be me blanking out because I was fascinated watching machines shoot labels onto each polymailer or envelope.
From there, we were taken over to the rows and rows of bins where products are stored. As many people in my tour group remarked, products seemed to be stored with no rhyme or reason. Our guide explained that Amazon had thoroughly tested this process and, in fact, stowing goods in what looks to us like a haphazard fashion is actually faster. He said pickers can go up and down an aisle gathering order items in 2-3 minutes, as opposed to 12-13 minutes before the process was optimized.
After this came my favorite part of the tour – the imaging center.
To get to the imaging center you walk through a security door at the back of the warehouse. It’s truly like entering a different world. Leaving all the industrial noise behind, we entered a room of a dozen or more mini-photo studios. Photographers – many of who had previously worked for the big fashion houses like Armani and Prada – photograph clothing, jewelry and watches. We were able to see the photographers work right on their monitors, as well as other stations where designers were retouching photos. Our guide mentioned that the product photography is sent to China and Romania for final post-production.
One of my fellow tour goers was none other than our friend Bob Willey of SellerCoaching.com. When Bob asked why sellers are required to provide photos when they have his nifty in-house imaging studio, others on my tour were asked to contact their “vendor rep.” While that was a much less-than-satisfactory answer for the average seller, my fellow group members did mention they got some ideas from the cardboard cutout + pin contraptions many photographers were using to photograph clothes.
Last but not least, we saw where products arrive from FBA sellers. Shipments are scanned while still in the packaging. If they seem to hold the expected products, they move on. If not, they’re opened up for inspection, which – our guide implied – could damage a seller’s reputation. Ouch.
From there we were escorted back to the training room and then straight out of the building with no lollygagging!
Other SDF8 facts worth noting:
- Gifts are wrapped by hand. I guess I thought they would have that process automated, too!
- Amazon doesn’t retrofit their fulfillment centers. This means SDF8 will never have all those cool robots we see in generation 8 FC’s.
- The SDF8 imaging center once hosted live clothing models – but this didn’t prove to be cost-effective. (Imagine that!)
- Our guide made a point to mention that SDF8 now has air conditioning. This was almost definitely in response to some of the “Inside Amazon” exposé pieces from years past.
Take an Amazon Fulfillment Center Tour
Want to tour an Amazon Fulfillment Center yourself? Amazon currently offers tours in the following locations:
- San Bernardino, CA
- Phoenix, AZ
- Chattanooga, TN
- Chester, VA
- Jeffersonville, IN
- Middletown, DE
Click the Amazon Fulfillment Center tour page to sign up. And be prepared to wait! Tours can book up months in advance.
Just wondering where all the fulfillment centers are? Click here for a list of Amazon warehouse locations.
Keep in mind these are only my impressions from the tour and I probably missed a lot. In fact, I know I was hypnotized by a conveyor belt at least once and probably more than that. So have you toured SDF8? What did I miss? What left a big impression on you? Start the conversation in the comments!