Amazon navigates uncharted territory in COVID-19 world

Few companies better reflect the new paradigm caused by the coronavirus pandemic than Amazon. 

More people are shopping online than ever before, providing a boon to Amazon sales. But there are also huge risks for the company in terms of coronavirus outbreaks, especially at the warehouses where workers “pick, pack, and ship” online orders.  

Can Amazon have it both ways? Keep growing while avoiding the same danger helping to fuel consumer demand? 

To answer these questions and more, Ursa has begun monitoring approximately 50 of the largest Amazon fulfillment centers across the United States using satellite radar imagery.

Our technique utilizes synthetic aperture radar (SAR), an all-weather, day & night technology.

For each fulfillment center, we’re monitoring the parking lots similar to the one shown below.

Amazon Fulfillment Center in Windsor, CT

Amazon Fulfillment Center in Windsor, CT

The basic question is how full are the lots over time. One method is counting individual cars or trucks using optical imagery, but that won’t work if there are clouds or if it’s nighttime.

Using SAR imagery, we can detect man-made objects, such as cars and trucks. For more information, check out this “How We Use SAR” story map. 

The map below shows the 46 Amazon fulfillment centers we’re currently monitoring. 

Our satellite radar experts turn the imagery into an activity index. A score above 1 indicates the lot(s) are more full than on average during the time period examined. A score below 1 indicates the lot(s) are less full than on average. 

The graph below shows a SAR activity index that is a composite of the 46 fulfillment centers going back to September 2018. 

Amazon Graph 062420.png

The results show seasonality, which isn’t surprising. In 2018 and 2019, the score increases sharply after Thanksgiving and lasts until just after Christmas, indicative of peak consumer demand during the holiday season. 

In 2020, the index fell until late March, and since then, it has increased steadily. The score remains above year-ago levels, indicating relatively strong activity at Amazon distribution warehouses. 

Will this last?

Judging from its stock price, the answer is “yes.” Amazon shares have soared by 45% so far this year, trading around $2,760 as of late June, a record high. Wall Street analysts believe the price will keep climbing higher.  

Not only is the e-commerce trend accelerating, but Amazon continues to build fulfillment centers at a rapid pace. The company recently hired 175,000 workers to staff warehouses. 

But can these workers stay healthy? 

Even though Amazon says it’s taking additional safety precautions, there have been a number of incidents of workers testing positive for COVID-19. In New York, three Amazon fulfillment center employees filed a lawsuit, alleging Amazon didn’t follow proper safety guidelines.

You can view this blog and other material on our COVID-19 Dashboard, which is available to the public.

Ursa is continuously monitoring vital locations around the world using satellite imagery to provide a deeper understanding of the impacts of COVID-19. 

If there’s somewhere you’d like us to take a look, please let us know

Geoffrey Craig