E-COMMERCE 

A look at how Amazon’s Prime Now service delivers packages in one hour in Austin

Posted December 22nd, 2017

Amazon’s strategy to deliver packages to customers in one hour is based on a simple, but technologically advanced operation that relies heavily on an internal system that runs through a bar-code scanner.

Launched in 2014, Prime Now is now reportedly available in more than 45 cities. Its capabilities of delivering packages to customers in one to two hours has quickly become a key part of Amazon’s grip on the e-commerce industry.

Prime Now’s edge is “in the tech that we use,” spokeswoman Angie Newman said Thursday inside a Prime Now hub in North Austin, one of two such facilities in the metro area. “It’s in the efficiency of our system.”

The system begins when a customer purchases items though Amazon’s Prime Now phone application, which is separate from the online retailer’s main app. Depending on how much a customer spends, there are options to having one- or two-hour deliveries.

All orders appear quickly on a screen at the Prime Now hubs, where they are assigned color codes.

Most orders are then matched to paper bags the items go into, according to Julio Cruz, a manager at the North Austin Prime Now hub. Unlike other Amazon orders that are delivered in boxes, Prime Now mainly uses bags. Many times items ordered through Prime Now are grocery and household products.

Workers at the hubs scan each bag, and the scanners direct them along specific routes throughout the hub to pick up items. 

Like other hubs, the North Austin location is laid out by categories, with the intention of reducing the time to deliver packages, Newman said. Categories included rows of tortillas, paper towels, baby and pet equipment and cereal boxes that were divided by color and number coordination. 

Items at the hub are separated between products that are bagged, refrigerated products and products that cannot fit into bags. Once employees find the items and scan them to make sure they match a bag and an order, the bags are sealed and lined up on carts near the hub’s entrance.

Amazon trucks then quickly pick up the bags and other products, Newman said, but some workers also deliver the items with their personal cars. While the process is simple, Cruz said, fast deliveries are made possible by the internal technology and strict guidelines Amazon has built at each hub.

“Because the system understands the process,” Cruz said, “we just follow it and it runs efficiently.”

Newman said Prime Now sales have made a significant impact to Amazon’s overall figures, with the company in November reporting $6.59 billion in sales just on Cyber Monday. 

She declined to disclose how many employees work at the North Austin hub or how many orders are processed and delivered there each day. 

The hub is one of several ways Amazon has gown its presence in Central Texas during the past few years. Since 2015, the company has added thousands of workers through the opening of an Amazon office in North Austin’s The Domain mixed-use development, a fulfillment center in San Marcos and the $13.7 billion purchase this year of Austin-based Whole Foods Market.

Ricardo Brazziell/American-StatesmanJonathan Theye prepares an order for a customer at a Prime Now hub in North Austin on Dec. 21, 2017.

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