Amazon has opened a new warehouse in Renton to help make its promise of same-day delivery a reality for more customers in the region.
The 130,000-square-foot facility moves packages through a condensed version of Amazon’s fulfillment network, enabling items like AirPods and coronavirus tests to make it to a customer’s doorstep hours after a purchase.
The warehouse runs almost 24/7, with only one hour of downtime, and breaks the day into different windows to estimate drop-off times. It uses an in-house metric to stock the most popular items. Once a customer clicks “order,” it sends one of its autonomous robots off on a “mission” to grab the item.
Amazon has more than 40 same-day facilities across the country, including two in Washington. It opened the first of its kind, SWA1, in Everett in 2019.
Once operations at the Renton warehouse, SWA2, ramp up fully, both locations will enable same-day delivery for Amazon Prime customers as far north as Marysville, as far south as Tacoma and as far east as Snolquamie, Maple Valley and Black Diamond.
“We have set a goal to continue to reduce lead time,” said Steve Volk, a multisite leader who is responsible for Amazon warehouses in Washington, Colorado, Utah and Northern California. “With the launch of SWA2, we’re able to offer more customers that service.”
Amazon had to put plans for the warehouse on hold last year after state officials voiced concerns about how the more than 1,500 cars slated to enter and leave the site daily could affect traffic. Since then, Amazon has spent the past year tweaking its plans and agreeing to mitigation measures.
The project was paused five times between August 2021 and April 2022, according to documents from Renton officials.
Amazon has run into similar concerns around the country as it expands its physical footprint, with advocates drawing attention to the potential impact of noise, traffic and pollution on the communities where Amazon sets up. In some cases, advocates say, those harms disproportionately affect poorer communities and communities of color.
In Washington, the company recently backed out of plans to open a warehouse in Rainier Valley, announcing its decision the day before community members gathered to protest Amazon’s presence in the neighborhood.
Renton officials approved plans for the Amazon warehouse in July, but the approval is “subject to conditions,” according to documents from the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development.
That’s because Amazon’s work pattern and workload won’t necessitate some of those mitigation measures right away, said Alex Morganroth, a senior planner with the city of Renton. In other words, those traffic concerns won’t be a problem until Amazon’s business in the area ramps up.
“They’ve been very upfront about what they’re trying to do. It’s a new-use case for us,” Morganroth said. “More than anything it’s been some lessons learned for possible future expansion.”
Amazon has until the end of January to construct a roundabout, put in a traffic signal, widen part of the street leading up to the warehouse, add Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps, put in signage warning drivers of the upcoming warehouse and trim some vegetation. Amazon is also spending $400,000 to implement traffic control systems at four intersections around the facility.
“It’s been a journey for us to get this building off the ground, but we were committed to working with the jurisdiction,” Volk said.
The new warehouse will be serviced by Amazon Flex gig workers who pick up packages in their own vehicles and make deliveries to customers’ doorsteps. A Flex driver’s route length can range from two to five hours.
It has about 100 hourly associates and expects to ramp up to 250 workers.
Typically, an Amazon package would move through three types of buildings before hitting the customer’s doorstep: a fulfillment center, a sortation center and a delivery station. At its same-day facilities, Amazon will “take all that and put it under one roof” to deliver hours after a customer places an order, Volk said.
The smaller same-day facility includes many of the same things as a larger fulfillment center — autonomous robots that bring items to associates, picking and packing stations for workers to process orders and prepare them for delivery, and a conveyor belt that helps get each item out the door — but the process is condensed.
There’s only one main conveyor belt. The picking and packing stations are back to back with a “wall” filled with cubbies, with associates on either side to deposit an item and then pick it up again. Instead of loading a large truck, packages are loaded into a driver’s personal vehicle with an average of 30 items per trip.
The Renton warehouse can handle items as small as gift cards and toothpaste and as large as car seats, vacuums and bags of dog food.
Since launching Aug. 31, the facility moves about 5,000 packages a day. Once it fully ramps up over the next several months, that will jump to 20,000.
To stock the warehouse, Amazon uses the Amazon Sellable Inventory Number, a metric that predicts popular items by region. The items in a same-day delivery station in Seattle may not be the same as those in Tampa, Florida. Overall, AirPods, coronavirus tests and Fire TV sticks are popular, Volk said.
The warehouse was first built in 1997. Before Amazon moved in, shipping service DHL Global Forwarding occupied the space.
This February, nearly 10 months after Amazon first submitted paperwork for the new warehouse, the Renton City Council declared a moratorium on land use, permits and license applications for warehouses and distribution facilities to give staff time to “analyze the impacts,” according to a report from the Renton Department of Community and Economic Development.
Although Amazon narrowly missed the cutoff, city officials determined it would still be exempt from the moratorium because it is taking space in an “existing industrial building.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Snoqualmie.