When Amazon briefly closed a delivery center after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, it raised the question: Can the shutdown of a single warehouse delay how quickly anxious customers get their orders?
Given the size of Amazon’s delivery network, the simple answer is, probably not.
Amazon’s delivery station in Queens, New York, which was back in operation Thursday after undergoing a deep cleaning, is one of more than 150 that the company runs in the U.S.
In a system that includes fulfillment centers where boxes are packed and sorted, the stations are the last links in the delivery chain, ferrying packages the final mile to customers’ homes.
“Given the significant warehouse square footage footprint that Amazon has amassed, disruption to its supply chain isn’t a major concern due to one facility temporarily going offline,” says Tim Lefkowicz, supply chain expert and senior managing director at AArete, a global consulting firm. “It would have to shutter 15% (of its space) for many weeks on end to significantly disrupt its business in the eyes of its customers. And it isn’t likely to happen.”
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Amazon did not respond to a question about whether contingencies are in place if or when facilities have to close. But industry experts say the company has probably already planned for such scenarios.
“They likely already have a backfill labor shift on alert to deal with this type of stress in their supply chain considering the unprecedented times we are in,” says Alberto Oca, a partner in the strategic operations practice of Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm.
Coronavirus leads to high demand for delivery
Delivery services have become essential as Americans are advised to stay in their homes to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and demand has at times been overwhelming.
Amazon’s Prime Pantry delivery service temporarily stopped taking orders Thursday to allow it to fulfill the many it had already received. Previously, the company announced it was prioritizing shipments of home staples and other coronavirus-related supplies to meet the high demand. And it is hiring another 100,000 part-time and full-time workers to help fill orders.
That hiring surge is another indicator that the company will be able to keep deliveries flowing, even if some employees become ill.
“Certainly a significant portion of these new hires is planned as a replacement … for a retiring, unproductive, or sick worker,” Lefkowicz says. “These are extraordinary times. If China can build a hospital in 10 days, then Amazon can certainly figure out how to protect its business from COVID-19.”
The Amazon worker in Queens who was diagnosed with the virus is in quarantine, Amazon said in a statement.
“We temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and sent associates home with full pay,” the company said.
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