Surely you’ll agree that America’s obsession with convenience has made us far lazier than in decades past. (And don’t call me Shirley.) After all, we don’t even have to get off the couch to order basically anything we may need want, and it’s becoming easier and easier to place those orders without doing anything more complex than talking at a little metal-and-plastic rectangle.
Perhaps the worst enabler of New American Sloth is Amazon. The ecommerce behemoth started out its Prime service with free two-day delivery, which, honestly, should be plenty fast for most anything you may order. But, because ‘Merica, Amazon recently debuted Prime Now, which, as the name implies, gets customers in 40-plus major markets what they want right friggin’ now, in two hours or less. (Pay a little more and that timeframe drops to one hour.)
As is usually the case, when one person wants to be lazy, someone else has to work harder to make that possible. And, because there are well over 50 million Amazon Prime subscribers in the U.S. alone, a lot of someones have to work hard to let them be lazy.
Elbow Grease & Efficiency
The typical Prime Now shipping center is, unsurprisingly, a huge warehouse with hundreds of employees. Seemingly endless aisles of retail shelving are stocked with tens of thousands of the most popular and most frequently-ordered items, a selection that is tailored to the geographic region—you won’t find many winter parkas in the L.A. warehouse, for example. Not all of the several million (probably) items available from “regular” Amazon Prime are represented, simply because that would impossible.
Employees are constantly moving up and down the aisles, either loading or unloading carts of merchandise. Those pulling items for customer orders place them in paper bags (or reusable insulated pouches, for perishable items) and not much later transfer those bags to separate shelves that are the rapid-ecommerce equivalent of an “out” box for packaging and shipment. Those restocking items simply place them in the nearest readily available space on the shelves, instead of in pre-determined locations like most normal-sized retailers use for their backstock.
A sophisticated system of barcodes and scanners keeps track of everything. Stockers scan a barcode on the shelf where they deposited an item and, when that item is next ordered, software in those same scanners tells pullers where to find it. Pullers then scan the barcode to tell the system that the slot is empty, and the cycle begins anew. Thousands of times a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.
Overall, it’s a truly bewildering example of ingenuity and efficiency. One to which most of the people whom it benefits will never give a second thought. Which is unfortunate, because those folks work dang hard so we can be lazy.