Saturday, May 21, 2005

A report about is one of the most popular net-stores in Japan, but it is infamous for their secretive management. They don't accept most interviews, and don't reveal their management data, even the net sales. A documentary writer was frustrated with this situation, so he quit his job as the chief editor of a logistics magazine and got a part-time job for a logistics center of, of course keeping his real purpose for this job a secret from Amazon.

His job is to pick books from many huge shelves and carry them to a packing counter. Amazon promotes rationalization and efficiency in a positive manner, but it is impossible to mechanize this picking process, because all books have their own size. For this purpose, Amazon employs 400 part-time-jobbers at a 900yen(7.5US$,6euro)-an-hour salary. It is the job the reporter had.

Amazon controls the workers with a time tracking machine. The machine tells Amazon and the workers how many books they are picking in a minute. Amazon sets a target as 3 books / min. Because of its difficulty, workers can't be lazy. This simple job goes on every single day. The finishing time of this job changes every day, and depends on the number of orders from customers. Sometimes the staff tells workers to work overtime untill 8 pm at the start, and sometimes he tells them to stop working at 3 pm. 9 / 10 workers quit this job in one year. Workers have no loyalty to Amazon.

The reporter gathered information about Amazon from workers in the center, and interviewed a retired chief executive of the logistics company and rival company of Amazon. He estimates that the last sales amount of Amazon was far and away ahead of rival companies (more than ten folds of rivals), a 70% amount of the biggest bookstore chain in Japan, Kinokuniya. In his opinion, Amazon's strength is based on their corrective logistics demand forecast, and thoroughly "customer-first" thinking (for example, customers can returned books they bought from Amazon any time within 30 days.).

He finds a future society in Amazon's model. It is a workplace that consists of "thinking workers who make manuals and earn a high salary, and non-thinking workers who are controlled by the manual and earn a low salary." His feeling about Amazon is "As a customer, I want to buy again. As a worker, never again."