When I tell people what I do for a living – especially this time of year – they tend to think of it as me being one of Santa’s elves.
In a way, it’s a fairly accurate assessment. But for those of us who live the holiday season inside a Walmart.com fulfillment center, we relate it to that of a sports team – deep in the postseason, with the clock winding down.
In the retail world, Black Friday is generally thought of as the granddaddy of them all. At the new Walmart.com fulfillment center in Atlanta – and the three others like it across the U.S. – Cyber Monday is our Black Friday. Online orders from everywhere start pouring in and, for an entire month, they never let up. Ever.
It’s nothing to ship out hundreds of thousands of units per day from some of these facilities during the holidays. And, as the orders roll in, it's my job to coordinate when every unit in every order needs to move. Some orders need to be on a customer’s doorstep in just two days. The clock immediately begins ticking and we’re responding in the moment to gather and pack them. Then, it's on to the appropriate carriers – UPS, FedEx, USPS or our own network.
To paint you a picture of what I see every day, there are literally hundreds of thousands of boxes moving at the same time. Packagers are packing, conveyor lines are rolling. My eyes are following everything, focusing on specific targets along the way. No two orders are the same, so we’re customizing everything. So if we spot a bottleneck, we have to react.
There are fulfillment centers with 200 to 300 full-time associates that bring in an additional 500 or so just to keep up with the holidays. By now, so many of those PieFace games have passed through our facility that I probably see them in my sleep. And who would have thought Mason jars would be such a popular item during the holidays? We see it all.
If you stop to think about it, we’re playing the role of our customers’ eyes and ears. When they order online, they don't have the option of hand-selecting each item for themselves, so it's our responsibility to be sure what arrives on their doorstep is exactly right and on time. By doing our jobs well, we play a big role in making magical holiday moments for so many people. That’s something we take very seriously.
Truth is, our legs get tired this time of year because the race is always on. Every one of us will tell you there are moments along the way when we want to tap out. But, when it all ends, I get this huge rush of excitement. It's the same feeling every year. It's like reaching the ball over the goal line for the winning touchdown in the final second. It's a moment of celebration – and it's awesome.