Monday was one of the busiest days of the year for the online retailer Amazon. The company says on Cyber Monday, hundreds of people place orders every second. And in Tennessee, this massive production depends on thousands of seasonal workers the company has hired across the state.
Kayla Hansen, who works for Amazon's fulfillment center in Murfreesboro, points to row after row of towering shelves — each broken down into smaller cubbies. In one of them, t-shirts, a board game and an electric blender are stored together. To the right, a set of speakers, exercise equipment and what looks like a nice set of sheets are neatly stacked.
It looks chaotic to an outsider, but there is method to the madness, Hansen says. The entire facility is about 1 million square feet, or about the size of 20 football fields.
If it was separated into sections like a traditional store, and a customer were to order a kindle and a t-shirt — for example — the person preparing the order might need to walk way across the building to each section, wasting precious time. Instead, individual items are spread all over, and electronic scanners simply point workers to the nearest one.
After all items in an order are gathered, they’re dropped on a miles-long conveyor belt. They will make their way to packaging, then be prepared for shipping. Along the way, each box will be be scanned and weighed multiple times, to check for accuracy. If the system detects any inconsistency with the expected weight, it will be sent down another chute where a worker will inspect the order by hand.
Many of those purchases will show up on a customer's doorstep within 48 hours, so there is always a sense of urgency. But “Cyber Monday” is something special, says Wayne Hood, an area manager at the Murfreesboro facility.
“We are very busy,” Hood says. “We're shipping out tons of orders. [It’s] kind of all hands on deck.”
The Murfreesboro location employs about 2,000 workers year-round, but Hood says they also depend on the swarm of seasonal workers who join them for the busiest season of the year.
That's how Hood, who is a Marine Corps veteran, got started here five years ago. After finishing his service, he was looking for a way to make money while he went back to school. Within just a few weeks of being hired as a temporary worker, he was asked to train other new employees. Then, he was hired full-time. Eventually, he worked his way up to managing his whole area.
Hood says around this time of year he begins to see some familiar faces.
“I see people that went to high school with me and people that I haven’t seen in years,” he says. “There’s definitely a lot more people [working] in this time of year."
It’s hard to tell exactly how big of a boost the holiday employment is to the economy, because neither the state nor county tracks seasonal workers. Amazon also doesn’t provide exact numbers in Murfreesboro. The retail giant does say it expects to hire close to 7,000 temporary workers in Tennessee. This effectively doubles the workforce for the season across the state’s five fulfillment centers, located in Murfreesboro, Lebanon, Nashville, and Chattanooga (where there are two).
Nationwide, Amazon says it will hire 120,000 workers this holiday season. Among the largest traditional seasonal employers in the country, FedEx and UPS plan to hire 50,000 and 95,000 employees respectively to get through the holiday rush. And many of those workers will be delivering Amazon packages.