Disclaimer: We are not spokespersons or officially affiliated with Amazon in any way. This account is of our personal experience as seasonal employees in the Cambellsville, KY distribution center in 2017. I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part and are not intentional.
One of the interesting things about the day is how it is divided into four quarters. We work 2-1/2 hours then have break, 2 hours and 10 minutes then lunch, 2-1/2 hours then break, and then 2-1/2 hours we are done. So the day is broken into quarters. Each time we log out from picking we generally come back to a different section and in general my productivity follows a trend. First part of the day I am really productive, with the second quarter being my worst generally. Third quarter, after lunch, I am peppy again, but then flag considerably at the end of the day. The nice thing for us has been the fourth quarter involved going into the section with stuff other than clothes and since that sparks my interest I often rally a bit. I also get some nice runs of picking quantities (the numbers below include 59 of a single item) which really helps the numbers.
What was different about today though was we finally got opened up for all the other sections. Thankfully this didn’t happen until near the end of the shift, but it did have a significant impact on Lee’s numbers in particular. With other sections comes both stairs and long walks to the next section, and in my case figuring out how to get to where I need to be. I also don’t really understand the layout of the higher floors, since the totes and carts are all in weird places, and the aisles aren’t necessarily laid out logically. I am sure we will learn all this over time, but I will say this definitely should have been included in our initial training. The ground floors are all simple grids with lots of totes and carts and pretty easy to figure out. Each little higher section seems to have it’s own unique layout, many of them are quite small, and I found it pretty confusing.
On the plus side, walking on wood floors rather than concrete was pretty nice. I imagine we will have much more of this higher floor activity to talk about and it will be interesting to see how the stairs impact our knees. Thus far the two areas I was most concerned about (knees and back) have actually done pretty well, but I imagine that is about to change.
Tracy: 24,754 ( 10.34 miles)
Items Picked: First Quarter – 214 (111 per hour); Second Quarter- 161 (79 per hour); Third Quarter- 177 (91 per hour); Fourth Quarter- 303 (121 per hour) Total:885
Lee: 27,796 steps (12.28 miles)
Items Picked: 883
Interesting Item Picked: Saw some cute things today, but my favorite had to be a Sherlock Homes hat and pipe. The set was really adorable and made me smile thinking of Lee wearing it, but seriously I know we have absolutely no need for that. We are huge fans of the show Sherlock on BBC (really if you haven’t seen them I give them the highest recommendation) and Benedict Cumberbatch has once again made this look cool!!
OK, I really hurt. My feet are absolutely killing me and I am hobbling into the rig each night. Every time I feel like I start to turn a corner they throw something else at us and it’s back to really hurting. In today’s case it was because they opened us up completely to other mods and many of those included stairs. So to give you a feeling for how the day went, let me lay it out for you. Some of the moves happened after more than an hour in a location, and others after only 5 minutes or so, but I think you will get the picture.
- Started on third floor of J (the wooden floors are a nice change of pace)
- Second floor of K (which is right to J, but it’s down the two flights and then walk across and up again. No way to cut across that I saw, although I could be wrong about that, I’m still learning my way around the upper floors)
- First floor M (which I really liked because it had lots of non-clothing items)
- First floor L (my least favorite because the clothing is in large boxes even at the higher levels, and it was hard for me to pull those down and look. They call it “hell mod” I can see why)
- Second floor C (again, not a fan. It’s a concrete floor and the lighting is really awful up there. They have strings of construction lights in cages strung along the top of the rows and it’s really dark in several places)
- First floor C (that was better because it is close to a bathroom, although there is no conveyor belt inside it. A nice full time employee told me I could put my totes on a cart at the front which really helped me a ton)
- Fourth floor J (which I liked because it was a ton of shoes. I find those pretty easy to pick)
- Second floor K ( despite being on higher floors the ventilation and air flow is really good)
- First floor K
- First Floor M (I got my first “hot pick” which is an item that is needed badly, and of course it was at the complete opposite end of the row I was at. I did my best to get there quickly though and get it in a tote)
- Fourth floor K (at this point we were 5 minutes until going home and I said “Screw it” Four floors at the end of the night is rough and I didn’t have it in me so went to the bathroom instead)
So, I only did 7 flights of stairs, but it sure felt like much more. Add in walking back and forth to the different aisles and it felt much tougher than what we were doing before although my step count was roughly the same. And as much as I appreciate the wood floor break, I found my feet were screaming when they were sent back to concrete floors, especially because (with one exception) those wood floor segments were pretty short. My numbers definitely suffered as well. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you are moving all around. Lee seems to excel at that and his numbers are also down, but not nearly as much. He is the sorest he has been in a while though.
Speaking of which, our supervisor walked up to Lee and gave him some Kudos. He said Lee was running 178% of goal and had 100% quality. Obviously this is pretty unusual, but Lee’s response was classic for him when he shrugged and said, “You tell me what to pick and where to pick it, so that’s what I do.” Too funny. I also got kudos for 100% quality, but nothing was said about my speed. I think I am doing fine there, but not setting any records, which is perfectly fine with me!
And finally they gave us a free Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. They gave us an extra 15 minutes (paid) to eat which was nice, but the food was a mixed bag. I know it’s hard to feed that many people, but most of it had a slightly institutional feel and with the entrees they definitely could have done better. Still free food is good and I loved the extra 15 minutes.
Tracy: 24,310 ( 10.14 miles)
Items Picked: 718
Lee: 28,907 steps ( 12.77 miles)
Items Picked: 925
Interesting Item Picked: Despite being all over the place I didn’t see many things that caught my fancy. Probably too tired. Early in the shift I did see a few foldable bamboo hats which caught my attention. They are both a a fan and a hat and I think they are a really cool idea. Check out the picture and see what they look like. Neat concept and they fold up pretty small so would fit in most purses.
One of our readers said it was tough to get a feel for the jobs without pictures, and since we are not allowed cameras inside I went and found some photos used in various news articles. Generally I am not a fan of using other people’s photos, but in this case I feel it is called for and I have credited the various publications. These are all from Cambellsville “style” warehouses and do a good job of representing the environment we are working in. I know it looks very industrialized but in all fairness it feels smaller when your are down on the floor. You do see other people, and although conversations are short there is always time for a wave and a smile. It just feels way more personal than these pictures communicate, but yes, you are part of a big machine.
We were also asked if there are other jobs, and yes, there are. There is packing, about which you can read a first hand account from my friend Kelly’s blog. And stowing, which is going into an area and putting items in bins. Those involve much less walking, but do have you standing on concrete for long stretches of time, which I actually find worse than walking, in some ways. The important thing is there are no guarantees about which job you will get. You can ask for preferences, but ultimately “business needs decide” and you should know that going in.
Hope that helps. OK, let’s talk about last night. Well, we went in and the back log was really low. The back log is the amount of orders that need to be filled. What that means as pickers is we were in for a rough day. The computer likes to keep you moving, so when the orders are low, it creates much longer routes. This means much more walking, and I ended up walking 13 miles and Lee walked over 14 miles in the shift. Yikes!! And as you can see, despite the extra walking, we actually picked less items than we usually do. Lee found it “demoralizing” because less was accomplished and I was just annoyed by the “fake productivity.” Let me explain. Obviously we were overstaffed, but instead of allowing employees down time or an extra break, they kept us walking, which makes it look like we were productive. To be clear, I have no idea how Amazon defines productive time, but I imagine that because there is walking time in a normal day that walk is included in productivity. The stats we are shown even take walking time into account, and the metrics include the time it takes to get from A to B. That’s fine and makes sense to me, except in a situation like last night, the routes were ridiculously inefficient so it’s not reality. I’ll give you an example. I was on the fourth floor of K mod, walked down to second floor K mod to pick 2 items (and there was someone on that floor already) then walked back up to the fourth floor. I may have looked 100% productive during that entire time, but I definitely wasn’t efficient.
(I would say, hands down, this is the one thing I absolutely hate. I mean, I really, really hate it. A computer sends the scanner a “batch” of items to pick, and a “pick path”, which is basically the order in which things are supposed to be picked. When there’s plenty of “work” (orders needing picked) it presents the items on a logical pick path. You travel down an aisle and pick things from bins or drawers as you go. So at the end of a single aisle you might have filled, one, two or even three totes. When there isn’t enough work, the path is scattered. You might start at drawer/bin #1 in an aisle, pick an item, then walk all the way to the end of that aisle to drawer/bin #256 to get the next item. Then all the way back to drawer/bin #5 for the next item. And sometimes it runs you diagonally from aisle 1 to aisle 100 and then back to aisle 3. This is incredibly stupid, and wasteful, and inefficient, and no way to treat human beings. Especially when you consider that a typical aisle is the length of a football field or more. And you can do that twenty or more times in a batch, which really adds up. You wouldn’t use a machine this way, because you are putting unnecessary extra wear and tear on a piece of equipment with a limited lifespan, and an actual replacement cost. And all for no reason other than to make people appear busy. It would be much more logical to always use the most efficient pick path, and if there’s down time, then there’s down time. “Chaosing” the pick path to create the illusion of having work to do doesn’t actually do anything at all, and I would imagine it pisses off anyone with half a brain. It certainly pisses me off. So far, this would be the number one reason I wouldn’t want to return to this gig, that’s how much it bothers me. – Lee)
And yes, I understand it is what it is to some extent, and when there is enough work in the queue I found the routes to be very efficient, but this walking around to keep busy can be a bit like Chinese water torture, especially at the end of the night. On the plus side, I finally got to visit the fourth floor of E section (which is new) and wow, that was nice. The floors are wood, but cushioned, and there is plenty of light, carts, and totes. It was beautiful up there and I understood why people had said “You are in for a treat.” It’s all relative after all, and the little things matter in a 10 hour day.
Tracy: 31,454 steps( 13.11 miles) Yikes!
Items Picked: 721
Lee: 33,440 steps (14.77 miles)
Items Picked: 808
Interesting Item Picked: I saw this really cool banana slicer. I have no idea if it works or not, but I’ve never seen one before and if you like sliced bananas, this might be the tool for you. (Trace has accidentally stumbled onto one of the most famous gems on the internet. Years ago someone wrote a very funny review of this item, and it went viral, and then other people starting piling on with their own funny reviews, and the rest is internet history. There’s a great Buzzfeed story about the phenomenon, and there’s even a published paperback BOOK on Amazon, which is a collection of the best reviews. – Lee) And I also want to take a minute and talk about Adult Content, so fair warning: you should skip the next bit if that will bother you.
I pick probably one adult item a day and although the items are in black bags or boxes the descriptions are pretty detailed. It can be a bit jarring to be picking common every day items and then run across a sex toy, but that’s part of the job, and I wanted to be transparent about that for those who might not want to pick those items. And I thought I would share a funny story. I ran across a “snake headed dildo” last night, and that really made me stop dead in the aisle. The mental image was really weird, and I gingerly picked up the black bag and put it in my cart. Being a curious person, when I got home, I decided to google what the heck that looked like (can’t wait to see what my suggested purchases look like after that) and it turns out that it didn’t have an actual snake head, but instead was shaped roughly like a snake. Shows what I know lol! Anyway, normally these items are just one more thing to put in the cart, but it can be a little strange. Just wanted to throw it out there.
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