Retail giants Amazon and Walmart, the two biggest employers, are racing to speed up order delivery times as they seek to crush rivals and squeeze out of workers more profits for the bosses.
In the latest step in their cutthroat competition, Amazon announced this month that it would lease, or contract to build, massive multistory warehouses to reduce delivery time and cut labor and transportation costs, especially in urban areas.
Amazon has just leased a three-story warehouse in Seattle, the first of its kind in the U.S., where a ramp enables trucks to drive right up to the second floor and freight elevators take forklifts to the loading docks.
At least three multistory warehouses are planned for New York City. As of August, Amazon also plans to add 37 fulfillment centers to its current 75 in North America.
Meanwhile, Walmart, already the largest grocer in the world, announced this month it would establish by year’s end a fresh food and general merchandise delivery service in some 1,600 stores covering 50% of the country. It will entail a $30 minimum order, $98 annual fee, and will require workers to pick, pack and deliver orders to customers’ doorsteps in four hours.
Since purchasing Whole Food Market Inc. two years ago Amazon has been offering same-day grocery deliveries in some cities. Last year Walmart scrapped plans to pay store workers to deliver to customers’ doorsteps after their shifts of up to nine hours. Workers at the stores where the company’s scheme was piloted showed little enthusiasm for using their own vehicles to help the bosses out.
Amazon also plans to build 3,000 of its Amazon Go stores by 2021, Bloomberg News reported. Go stores automatically scan the cost of products as they are taken off shelves to the customer’s Amazon account — using no cashiers, and eliminating waiting lines. But putting millions into Amazon’s coffers.
Both companies increasingly use robots to press their relentless speedup of work and intensify the exploitation of workers. Amazon uses them in its warehouses and has begun testing a delivery robot in Seattle, San Francisco and Irvine, California.
Walmart has installed robots at 1,500 of its 5,000 stores nationwide that sort inventory, unload trucks, scan shelves, clean floors and other tasks.
“The robots,” wrote the Washington Post in June, “don’t complain, ask for raises, or require vacations or bathroom breaks.”
It is workers who are the main target of the retail bosses’ efforts to win greater market share. Amazon, Walmart and their rivals compete to limit wage hikes, cut benefits and exercise tighter control over workers’ schedules. And, at all costs, attempt to block any effort by workers at stores and warehouses from fighting to organize unions.