It seems that you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t purchased something from Amazon. And the online retail giant appears to be reaping the rewards, as it generated profits of $3 billion in 2017 – not to mention achieving an astounding 31 percent increase in revenue from the year before.
While going through the experience of shopping on Amazon, though, many buyers have noticed a trend when receiving their purchases. You see, after customers order small items from the website, they sometimes receive their goods in extra-large boxes.
Now in order to move as much product as it does, Amazon has innovated when it comes to purchase fulfilment measures. For starters, as of June 2018 the company has more than half a million employees around the world in its employment.
Moreover, that figure is one that has grown substantially since October 2016. In fact, the company has added more than 250,000 workers since then. And along with its traditional employees, Amazon has robots at work, too.
Indeed, the company reported in June 2018 that it now has a fleet of more than 100,000 of the machines working in its warehouses. But although this fact seemed to make some people worry about the security of the jobs held by the company’s sentient employees, Amazon has nevertheless stated that its robots don’t have the intelligence or mobility required to replace humans.
What the robots can do, though, is efficiently bring stock from one end of an enormous Amazon warehouse to the other. They can also put orders together piece by piece by grabbing various items from different parts of the distribution center.
And Tye Brady, who is the chief technologist of Amazon’s Robotics branch, revealed that the robots only filled the gaps to make the company as efficient as possible. “When there are tens of thousands of orders going on simultaneously, you are getting beyond what a human can do,” he said at an MIT Technology Review conference, according to the Daily Mail.
But the use of robots isn’t the only unusual aspect of the Amazon order-fulfillment process. The company has also appeared to surprise its customers by sending out orders in packages that don’t appear to fit the product – especially considering how efficient the rest of Amazon’s service seems to be.
Multiple theories have been put forward as to why the company does this, although not all of them can be correct. And one possibility, presented by Milandeep Singh on Quora, was that the boxes used in Amazon warehouses have to be at least a certain size; otherwise, they’d fall through gaps while being moved around.
In addition, Singh, who has reportedly worked for the company, said that Amazon warehouses only carry boxes in a handful of sizes. So, if your item doesn’t fit into the smallest package, it’ll go into the next size – even if that one is much bigger than what’s necessary.
Another Quora user, product engineer Blair Anderson, had a different idea, though. With her experience in consulting with companies that have sold products on Amazon, she theorized that vendors provided the website with incorrect product measurements.
Anderson wrote, “Amazon trusts them and uses boxes that are too large.” She accredited the company’s lack of proper packaging to its history, too. “It was just books, movies and music [at one point]. Media is roughly all the same size, but non-media is completely random,” she added.
However, Fabio Moretzsohn, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, also chimed in with the results of his own research into the topic. “I imagine that someone at Amazon has concluded that it costs less to use bigger boxes than smaller boxes that may cause more products to break and require a costly return,” he wrote.
Eventually, though, the correct answer appeared in the conversation. Amazon’s use of extra-large boxes isn’t the result of the measurements provided by manufacturers or a shortage of boxes in its warehouses – nor is it even to do with the risks of breaking something.
Seasoned Quora user J. Bennion, whose areas of expertise apparently included computer security and shipping, shared the real reason why the website packages products the way it does. “Everyone is wrong,” his answer began.
Bennion then revealed that Amazon’s shipping process has nothing to do with human error. Instead, he explained, it’s governed by the choices made by the website’s algorithm, which are designed to make stacking and shipping items as simple as possible.
“It is because an algorithm has decided that this is the best box – not for you and your order but for the pallet, truck or shipping container involved in shipping all the orders in a group,” Bennion continued. So, the mystery had finally been solved, it seemed.
Bennion then provided some further details. The algorithm might also decide that “this is the current good enough box for the pallet, truck or shipping container involved in shipping all the orders in a group at a point when it became too expensive in processing time to figure out the next better solution,” he went on.
So, the equation pieces palettes together so that items ordered from Amazon can be quickly, simply and safely stacked. And if the right box to do so isn’t available, then the next-best option will be used so that products can be shipped as swiftly as the company promises.
With that, Bennion explained away the curiosity that comes with every seemingly over-packed Amazon order. And although many have been confounded by the boxes they receive, Bennion felt that the process was extremely simple to understand. “Box packing is a non-trivial problem,” he concluded.