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How Amazon's Super-Complex Shipping System Works

How Amazon's Super-Complex Shipping System Works

Note: This article is based on the script of a video titled "How Does Amazon Deliver Packages So Fast?" by Wendover Productions.


Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world, has a shipping and fulfillment system that is more complex and convoluted than most logistics companies. This system plays a crucial role in driving Amazon's success by striving to make the consumer experience simple. In this article, we will explore how Amazon's packages are delivered, the different stages in their shipping process, and the innovative strategies they employ to get packages to their destinations quickly and efficiently.

The Fulfillment Process

The shipping process for Amazon packages depends on whether the item is fulfilled by Amazon directly or by a third-party seller. Approximately one-fourth of sales in the US are fulfilled directly by the seller, while the remaining three-quarters are fulfilled directly by Amazon.

For items fulfilled by a third-party seller, the fulfillment process is similar to any other e-commerce company. The sellers can choose to send packages through UPS, FedEx, the postal service, or another consumer delivery company.

However, for items fulfilled directly by Amazon, the process differs. Amazon's fulfillment centers are divided into three categories based on the size of the package: small sortable, large sortable, and large non-sortable.

1. Small Sortable: These are items that are less than 12 by 16 by 6 inches in size and weigh about 25 pounds. Amazon uses automation tools such as conveyor belts and robots, like the Kiva robot, to handle the fulfillment process for these smaller items.

2. Large Sortable: This category includes items larger than small sortables, up to a weight of about 60 pounds. While some automation is used, the fulfillment process for these larger items is more manual compared to small sortables.

3. Large Non-Sortable: These are the largest items, such as furniture or appliances, that cannot be easily sorted or packaged together. Fulfillment centers for large non-sortable items are less automated and involve manual processes, including custom box creation for odd-sized items.

The ultimate goal for Amazon is to have every item they sell in every warehouse. However, since this is not realistic, they employ predictive modeling to place items closest to those most likely to buy them. This predictive stocking allows them to optimize delivery times based on consumer demand in different regions.

The Shipping Journey

Once packages are prepared for shipment, they follow different routes depending on their destination. Here's an overview of the typical shipping journey for an Amazon package:

  1. From the Fulfillment Center: Packages are sent from either small sortable or large sortable fulfillment centers to a regional sortation center. Large non-sortable items may be sent directly to a third-party logistics provider or continue in Amazon's system.
  2. Regional Sortation Center: Packages arrive at a regional sortation center where they are sorted according to their destination zip codes. This process involves robots and workers dropping packages into different chutes.
  3. Air Transportation: Packages that are destined for locations further away are loaded onto trucks bound for airports. Amazon Air, the company's air cargo service, dispatches cargo planes from various locations in the US. These planes transport the packages to regional hubs, such as Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
  4. Sorting at the Hub: At the hub, packages are sorted and loaded onto outgoing flights bound for different regions. Amazon strategically schedules departure and arrival times to optimize efficiency and minimize shipping costs.
  5. Last-Mile Delivery: Depending on the package's destination, it is either delivered directly by Amazon's own delivery vans, contracted independent companies, or, in less populated areas, handed over to the United States Postal Service (USPS) for last-mile delivery. The USPS charges lower rates for last-mile delivery, making it a cost-effective option for rural areas.
  6. Alternative Delivery Methods: In more rural and remote areas where neither Amazon nor the USPS can efficiently deliver, packages are often handed over to UPS for the final leg of the journey. UPS serves as a reliable option for delivering packages to low-density areas.

Keyword: Amazon shipping, fulfillment centers, sorting centers, predictive stocking, Amazon Air, last-mile delivery, USPS, UPS


Q1: How does Amazon decide where to stock items in their fulfillment centers? Amazon uses predictive modeling to determine where to stock items in their fulfillment centers based on consumer demand. They aim to place products closest to the consumers most likely to buy them, optimizing delivery times.

Q2: Do all Amazon packages follow the same shipping route? No, the shipping route for Amazon packages depends on various factors, such as the size of the item, the destination, and the fulfillment method (Amazon or third-party seller). Packages may go through different stages, including sorting centers, air transportation, and last-mile delivery, before reaching their final destination.

Q3: How does Amazon's shipping system compare to other major delivery companies like UPS and FedEx? Amazon's shipping system is more complex and convoluted compared to traditional delivery companies like UPS and FedEx. Amazon has optimized its system to meet its promise of quick and efficient delivery, using innovative strategies such as predictive stocking, Amazon Air, and strategic partnerships with local delivery providers like USPS.

Q4: Does Amazon plan to compete with UPS and FedEx in the delivery industry? Many experts believe that Amazon will eventually start offering delivery services to other companies, directly competing with UPS and FedEx. With their comprehensive logistics network and mastery of the shipping process, Amazon has the potential to disrupt the delivery industry in the future.

Q5: Are there any alternatives to Amazon's shipping system? Competitors like Target and Walmart have developed their own unique fulfillment systems. Target, for example, leverages its physical stores to fulfill online orders quickly. Instead of relying on a complex shipping network, Target employees pick, pack, and ship orders directly from their local stores. Walmart is also adapting a similar direct-from-store fulfillment model.


Amazon's shipping and fulfillment system is a testament to the company's commitment to providing customers with fast and reliable delivery. Through a combination of technological innovation, predictive modeling, strategic partnerships, and efficient routing, Amazon has built a shipping system that rivals and challenges traditional delivery giants like UPS and FedEx. As online shopping continues to grow, it's clear that how packages are shipped and delivered is fundamentally changing, and Amazon is at the forefront of this transformation.