By Nora Ali
Amazon made company history and recorded its biggest shopping day yet on Cyber Monday following an already-lucrative five-day holiday weekend that totaled over 180 million in products sold.
More customers than ever before had their Thanksgiving turkeys delivered via AmazonFresh and Prime Now. Customers purchased hundreds of thousands of prepared holiday meals at Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market, while Alexa commands set more timers than ever before, and doled out recipes and cooking advice at double the frequency of past years. Customers increasingly used their smartphones to shop; mobile transactions rose 55.6 percent from last year’s Cyber Monday.
Amazon did not release its one-day sales total for Cyber Monday, but it was the dominant retail player on a day during which a record $7.9 million was spent online, according to Adobe Analytics.
But beyond the sheer volume of products Amazon sold, its retail strategy rests on its ability to convert non-Prime members and eventually pocket that $120 yearly subscription fee.
Amazon’s ($AMZN) fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J. is a singular representation of that colossal effort.
The center is more than 1 million square feet – about the size of 28 football fields – and bustles with packages zipping along more than 14 miles of conveyor belts.
I visited the Robbinsville fulfillment center on Cyber Monday to get an inside look into how Amazon maintains its dominant position during the madness of holiday sales.
Last Cyber Monday, “Amazon customers bought 83 million products globally in one day. That’s about 961 per second,” Adam Sedo, an Amazon Spokesperson, told me. This year was even higher.
“We have 100 million Prime subscribers, and we always try to offer them the best deals,” Sedo noted. “However, if you’re not a Prime member today, you can still get free shipping, only for the holiday season, with no minimum purchase required.”
To maintain free and fast shipping for its customers, Amazon relies heavily on robotics and automation to boost its productivity in its fulfillment centers.
Sedo noted that in the fulfillment center, we see “almost a perfect integration between humans and robotics working together. [The robots] help move shelves across this fulfillment center to our employees. That helps us increase delivery speed, but also helps our employees focus on more sophisticated tasks.”
But Amazon’s efficiencies and competitive advantages on Cyber Monday come at a serious cost.
Despite having raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour in November, the retailer’s treatment of employees and overall working conditions remain under national scrutiny.
Amazon employees walked to protest working conditions in Europe on Black Friday using the hashtag #AmazonWeAreNotRobots.
Amazon continues to fight a constant battle to increase productivity through automation (to better service the customer), while also promising job creation. Once humans accept those jobs, Amazon works to ensure that they are treated well.
Sedo highlighted various Amazon employee perks, including a program called Career Choice, where “Amazon pays 95 percent of tuition to any course our employees want to take. One of the most popular courses is robotics and electro-engineering.”
Signs are posted throughout the fulfillment center, reminding workers to do their “Pre-Shift Stand-Up Stretches.” Boxes are available if workers “have safety suggestions,” just underneath a reminder to “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”
A worker on the fulfillment center floor told Cheddar, unsolicited, “this is a really great place to work.”
Whether this rings true for other employees or not, working conditions will remain under the spotlight while Amazon continues to dominate online retail – especially during the all-important holiday season.