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[7 comments]

Amazon opens warehouses for tours

May 8, 2014

Amazon, known for being highly secretive, is opening up six of its 37 fulfillment centers to tours.

The tours were first revealed earlier last month in Amazon's annual letter to shareholders. Wrote Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, "I'm always amazed when I visit one of our (Fulfillment Centers), and I hope you'll arrange a tour. I think you'll be impressed."

Amazon has now set up an appointments page with tours available in: Chattanooga, TN; Chester, VA; Jeffersonville, IN; Middletown, DE; Phoenix, AZ; and San Bernardino, CA. The hour-long tours will be held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, beginning May 6. Online bookings began in mid-April and some locations are booked through 2015.

The appointment page reads, "Come see the magic that happens after you click buy on Amazon."

Like those of manufacturers, the tours could serve to market new products or as a branding tool. But the tours seem more designed to help improve the overall images of warehouses.

Amazon's fulfillment page notes:

  • More 20,000 full-time workers were hired at its warehouses last year;
  • The number of illnesses and injuries reported at Amazon's warehouses is 51 percent lower than at a general warehouse, and 33 percent lower than at a department store;
  • Amazon's fulfillment employees are paid 30 percent more than traditional retail stores. Benefits are received the first work day, including health care and stock awards;
  • Amazon pre-pays 95 percent of employees' tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.

Amazon's efforts to hire military veterans and its charitable efforts are also touted.

With Amazon opening warehouses across the country, the tours seemingly support recruiting efforts. But several columnists felt the tours were particularly designed to offset a series of critical reports in the past year over how warehouse employees are treated. A BBC report that ran last November said that working in a Wales warehouse could cause not only physical but also mental illness, claims Amazon refuted. In December, a unionization effort at its warehouse in Middletown, DE was voted down.

Speaking to CNNmoney, spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman declined to say if the tours had anything to do with working condition issues. She added, "We know customers are curious to see what happens after they click buy, and we're excited to show them."

FINANCIALS:     [NASDAQ:AMZN] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Amazon is opening up its fulfillment centers to tours? Are questions surrounding Amazon warehouse working conditions becoming a publicity problem? Will the tours offer much appeal to Amazon customers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What do you think is the primary reason Amazon is opening some of its warehouses for tours?

Comments:

When people can't see what is happening behind the curtain, they often suspect the worst. Amazon has been the subject of numerous articles decrying conditions in its fulfillment centers. By opening them to tours, Amazon is letting those who are curious to peek behind the curtain. The hoped for impact will be to decrease or eliminate the negative publicity regarding working conditions at the centers.

I expect the first people to sign up will be members of the press. This will result in a steady stream of articles (local, regional and nationally) regarding what they find. The result will be increased awareness of Amazon (if such a thing is possible) and will help serve as a recruitment tool for the centers.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

They are taking a page out of Zappos, who have gotten great press and positive response from customers because of the tours they give of their headquarters.

If I was in an area that offered a tour and I could get on the schedule, I would sure go.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

There are a number of reasons why Amazon chose to offer these tours - all them mentioned in the article. What they boil down to is, it's good business. In one swoop Amazon can appeal to its customers' curiosities, rebut attacks on its working conditions and recruit new employees.

The tour in San Bernardino, CA is booked up into May 2015. Looks like Amazon struck a positive chord with the local populace.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

From over 30 years of working with logistics, warehouse tours are primarily ego driven. They are set up because someone in the company thinks they are better than everyone else.

Local chapters of professional associations work for their members to tour 3 or 4 warehouses a year. No one offers a tour of a bad, dirty, or unsafe warehouse, therefore working conditions would not be the reason for offering a tour. There are some customers that will find it interesting, but not the majority. Mostly, professionals would like to see what they are doing.

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W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

Mel has it on the Zappos gig. And does anyone here understand Bezos? This is marketing and covering up the simple financial facts - Amazon is making little money at their supposed amazing retail processes.

Want to see a real fulfillment center that blows this away? Visit UPS or AAFES - the PX centers that our soldiers depend on.

More marketing. More Bezos trying to create new things. A good angle for the Millennial market where many have little idea of how anything works. That is harsh, but in interaction with college students and low 30s year olds, I found that most have no idea of the basics around properly maintaining a car and NO IDEA on how it works...but they all know HOW their smartphone works....

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

It's clear: they need the money. Well, probably not (I don't think they're charging for this). Actually there's nothing remarkable about a company offering tours of their facilities, though the offer is usually for a factory or workshop or something with a "backroom secret(s)" appeal. Why Amazon? Maybe it's a defensive move; maybe people have actually asked for them; maybe Bezos is so egotistical he thinks Amazon's warehouses - let's call them what they are - merit special attention...who knows? What IS clear is that Amazon is once again reaping publicity for doing little...the old PR magic at work.

'notcom'

For many reasons, the market growth of Amazon is falling short of expectations and more importantly financial need. The allowing of a controlled public visits will serve to wow and assure the public and the press as to just how amazing the Amazon experience really is.

In the current economy, it might be a better plan to address the problems than to spend money trying to make room for less than effective executive practice and style. But since replacement of leadership is not allowed for now, Amazon will have to resort to a smoke and mirror market plan for the present.

'gjarnoldjr'

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