Amazon ramps up in Concord, with 360 employees and counting

The Amazon distribution center in Concord had more than 110 cars in the parking lot Sunday. It operates 24 hours a day with three separate shifts.
The Amazon distribution center in Concord had more than 110 cars in the parking lot Sunday. It operates 24 hours a day with three separate shifts.

E-commerce giant Amazon has quietly ramped up employment at its Concord distribution center over the last seven months, part of a network of facilities around the country aimed at speeding up delivery.

The facility, housed in a warehouse just about a mile from Concord’s airport, has 360 employees spread over three daily shifts seven days a week, said site leader Brad Stanbery. And the Seattle-based company is still hiring locally: Its website on Monday listed seven Concord jobs.

“We’re proud to be a part of the local communities in North and South Carolina,” said Amazon spokesperson Aaron Toso. “These areas have been great locations for us and we’ve found quality talent in abundance.”

Workers at the Concord site walk through turnstiles roughly 7 feet high, underneath a sign reading “Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”

The site is part of a nationwide effort by themega-retailer to exert more control over its distribution network. In the past, freight carriers such as UPS routinely collected goods from Amazon order-fulfillment centers and shipped them to customers. But serious delivery delays during the 2013 holiday season prompted Amazon to retain control of its wares after they leave the fulfillment centers.

To do that, the company uses “sortation centers” such as the one in Concord, where workers sort orders by ZIP code. The goods then go to customers through the U.S. Postal Service, according to Marc Wulfraat, president of logistics and supply chain consulting firm MWPVL International, who has studied Amazon’s distribution network.

“By getting closer to the customer, it allows them to get faster to the market,” Wulfraat said, adding that it brings shipping costs down per carton. The switch to USPS for the final leg of a product's journey also enables Saturday delivery, which UPS and FedEx aren’t as well-equipped to do, he said.

Amazon says the Concord center has already sped up delivery for Charlotte-area customers. Similar facilities around the country helped Amazon roll out same-day delivery in 14 cities last week in an enhancement of its Amazon Prime service. Charlotte was not among them.

Will Charlotte be in the next wave? Amazon’s Toso would only say: “We will continue to expand our delivery capabilities and add more ZIP codes in the future.”

Elsewhere, the company is testing drones that would bring goods straight to your doorstep.

The Concord location is among several Amazon sites along Carolinas interstates, including Spartanburg and Charleston. A fulfillment center in Cayce, S.C., just outside Columbia, ships 50,000 packages a day, according to research by Wulfraat’s firm.

Toso, the Amazon spokesperson, said the company employs 2,500 people full time at its South Carolina locations and plans on hiring more.

Amazon also is posting information technology jobs in the Charlotte area for cloud-storage service aimed at businesses. Cloud storage is Amazon’s fastest-growing segment, according to Bloomberg.

Amazon may soon see a substantial challenge in the delivery sphere from a traditional retailer. Wal-Mart is experimenting with ShippingPass, which would directly compete with AmazonPrime by charging a flat $50 per year fee for shipping.

Wulfraat said Wal-Mart’s experiment could give Amazon a run for its money if it is not a money-losing proposition.

“Wal-Mart is in the business of making a sustainable profit, which is something Amazon hasn't proven it can do yet.”

Hardiman: 704-358-5928; Twitter: @samhardiman