Here’s What It Looks Like Inside an Amazon Warehouse

Take a look inside an Amazon fulfillment center and see where the magic happens.

Amazon is a pretty incredible feat—everything from money-saving Amazon basics to the most expensive Amazon item can be at your door in a matter of days. With such a wide variety of products in stock, it leaves us wondering: where are they all stored? How does this virtual retailer have room for a seemingly infinite number of products? Let’s take a look inside some Amazon fulfillment centers. Before you place your next order, make sure you know exactly what “Amazon’s Choice” means (it’s not what you think).

The history of Amazon warehouses

The empire known as Amazon began as a bookseller in 1995, but founder Jeff Bezos envisioned so much more for his tiny company, named “Amazon” after the largest river in the world.

Amazon first started out of Bezos’ garage, with servers requiring so much power that “Bezos and his wife couldn’t run a hair dryer or a vacuum in the house without blowing a fuse,” according to Insider. Meetings were often held at the local Barnes and Noble.

The earliest Amazon book warehouse had a bell that would ring every time a customer made a purchase. Eventually, the bell began to chime so frequently throughout the office that it was turned off. This rapid escalation was reflected in their first month’s sales as they sold books to people across the United States and in 45 different countries. For more insight into Amazon’s business practices, learn about Jeff Bezos’ classic two-pizza rule.

In 1997, when Amazon began its distribution network, the first fulfillment center popped up in Seattle at 93,000 square feet—super small in contrast to the facilities today. The next one followed in Delaware that same year at 202,000 square feet.

Today, there are 110 Amazon fulfillment centers in the United States and 185 centers around the world—some as large as 28 football fields with the ability to hold millions of products.
Amazon Fulfillment Center Side By, Getty Images (2)

How do Amazon fulfillment centers work?

Wait, let’s back up. What is a fulfillment center?

FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) is the process of storing, packing, and shipping orders. This is where the magic happens.

First, the products enter the warehouse. Some come from other Amazon facilities while others come directly from small businesses that are part of the FBA program. Small vendors who are part of this program have all the shipping taken care of for them and with a company as large as Amazon on their side, it helps them reach more buyers. And let me tell you, there are some truly strange things you can buy on Amazon.

Now, if you’re thinking that an Amazon warehouse is neatly organized by category as are many large department stores, think again. Items are stored in yellow stacking bins at random and are tracked by computers. As baffling as this is, this system makes it easier for workers to pack a variety of items. Robots bring these bins to stowing stations where workers will find the appropriate space.

As the orders roll in, employees find the items in the bins that are brought by robots. When the employee finds the correct item, it goes in something called a tote. After items are scanned for accuracy, they go into a box that goes through a machine that pastes on shipping labels. Then, they are ready to slide into a trailer that will bring them right to you. And people have a ton to say about their orders—just scan through these funniest Amazon reviews of all time.

There are many teams along the way that ensure this process is running the way it should be, especially with so many variables in place. According to Amazon, this process is always being fine-tuned.


Interested in seeing an Amazon warehouse for yourself?

Did you know that you could take a tour of an Amazon fulfillment center? Now is your chance!

While visitors used to have the ability to come by in person, COVID-19 guidelines have halted in-person tours. But you can still sign up for a virtual tour of an Amazon fulfillment center where you can see this process happening in real-time. Before you hop on a tour, make sure you’re taking advantage of all of these Amazon Prime benefits—some you may not even know about yet!

Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is a former assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who writes about digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pickup lines and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.