I think today we take so many things for granted – online shopping being one of them.  We scroll, browse, click and just wait for items to show up at our door – almost ignoring the outstanding logistical orchestration that is required to make it happen so seamlessly.  We’ve taken a close up and hands-on look at just how it all happens.

When you shop at Amazon.com.au you’re presented with an almost endless number of items (over 200 Million in fact!).  We’ve bought everything from batteries, to books and even canned soft-drinks on Amazon, and each time we simply click and then a day or so later it’s at the door.

In reality, it’s a complex system that not even I can fully understand, but I think it’s best broken down into a few key steps.  Fulfilment, Distribution and then Delivery.

Amazon has enormous fulfilment centres in Australia, headlined by their newest robotics fulfilment centre in Sydney’s West at Kemps Creek.  This 200,000 square metre centre is the size of 24 Rugby League fields and has space for 20 million smaller items.  Yes, 20 million!

Inside, there are several floors of stock sitting waiting to be sold, stored in yellow storage pods.  

Fascinatingly these pods are not what you would expect when you see them in rows and rows across the enormous floor space.  Instead of what we know as “aisles” at shops where all the batteries are in one place, the health and beauty in another, the books in this area – at Amazon, each yellow storage pod contains a random sample of goods.

But this is where it all starts for your order.

Once you click ‘purchase’, your order is placed in a fulfilment queue, along with the many, many others coming through every hour from Aussies shopping online.

When your order hits the front of the queue, a robotic drive, kinda like a robot vacuum but smarter, stronger, and far more advanced heads out and finds the yellow storage pod your item is in. If you order many things, different robots will grab different pods.  The robot picks up the pod, and brings it to an Amazon team member (this site will create up to 1,500 local jobs), who is guided by a bright light shining on the area of the pod where your item is.

The team member grabs your item, puts it into a plastic tote along with many other items, and then sends it on its way.

That tote goes along part of the 14km of conveyor belts around this four-level facility, downstairs to its next stop.

Sorting and packing is next, where a ‘packer’ will grab your item and box it up if it’s a single item order.  The computer system at Amazon tells the packer which box or package size to use, then it is barcoded and sent on its way.

Here’s what’s amazing – at no point does any Amazon staff member see who is ordering what.  Your name and address are only placed on your package when they are far down the conveyor belts at the SLAM (scan, label, apply, manifest) station, where a machine weighs the box to makes sure it contains the right items, sticks the address label on and sends it on its way.

It’s a level of privacy I’d never appreciated before visiting the fulfilment centre. 

From here, all the parcels are separated into zones- basically by carrier (it could be Amazon Flex, Australia Post, Couriers Please or one of the other delivery company Amazon uses in Australia) – and then sorted into geographic zones so that all the parcels for one area are together, and sent off for distribution.

Trucks collect the parcels and, in the case of Amazon Flex take them to smaller Delivery Stations where they are collated into even smaller batches ready for on-road delivery.

And this is where Amazon Flex kicks in.

I’ve explained Amazon Flex in far more detail here.  Amazon Flex drivers come to the Delivery Stations and collect a car-load of parcels and set out for delivery.

Drivers are delivering parcels in small areas and are provided with a guided delivery system in the Amazon Flex app they can use to deliver them in the fastest (or you can use your own maps), most efficient way and can’t make any mistakes using barcodes to verify parcels at each address.

A knock on the door, or a ringing of the doorbell will probably be that item you ordered just a day or so ago.

For those in our biggest cities, it’s remarkable to think that you could order something today, and could be at your door tomorrow!  Just a marvel of logistics and a testament to the systems, robotics and staff at Amazon Australia.

This article was produced with support from Amazon Australia