The Graf UK Swag Store

A few months ago we took our Operations Team for a tour of the Amazon Fulfilment Centre in Coventry. I thought it would be a useful afternoon to go and see how one of the best distribution companies in the world operate. It didn’t disappoint, but the ideas that we brought back with us weren’t so much to do with systems and processes - these were mostly automated so very difficult to replicate without significant investment in robots and computer programs - they were more to do with the “human” aspect of the Amazon operation. 

You see, even Amazon with all their slick processes and automation (which does its best to cut-out the need for humans as much as possible!) still need people and those people have to be looked after, just like any ordinary company. 

So, they have excellent signage with notice boards everywhere. Their staff would literally have to walk around with their eyes closed to not know what was happening that day, that week, that month. They communicate everywhere. They also have huge white boards where staff are encouraged to write about any issues they’re facing that they would like to escalate to senior management.  The best thing about this is that the senior managers then write back, on the same white board, so it’s plain and clear to see what action is being taken about the complaints or issues. 

It’s worth noting that these things are on display for anyone to see. The access on the tours (which are completely free of charge by the way) is impressive. How would you feel about opening up your office doors or warehouse doors for outsiders - including customers - to come in and see all your operations. Including seeing boards with staff complaints and management’s responses. I find it very refreshing, and a good sign of their business culture, that they don’t try to hide any of the “real life” stuff. And why would they need to? Why would any of us need to? Everyone in business knows you have staff issues and complaints every now and then. It’s all about how you deal with them and being willing to put it all on show to the world says a lot about a business. 

The big take-away from this visit for me was a cabinet we walked by that was entitled the “Swag Store”. Inside it you could see lots of different items that could be exchanged for swag points. They ranged from household items, to clothes, to gadgets and electronics, all of which had a points value and could be bought by exchanging swag points.

Having done some research online since the visit it appears that these “Swagbucks” are a reward scheme for Amazon employees. A way that managers can incentivise and then reward staff who go that extra mile. For example, during Amazon prime week, where they are desperate for staff to work longer hours and in fact they almost double their workforce, they would use these swag points as a reward to any team members who do extra to help during this super-busy time. 

So, in the spirit of “swipe & deploy” which is something I do regularly when I see good ideas in other businesses (not copy & paste - you always have to put your own spin on ideas you steal from other companies!) we started our own Swag Store and points scheme.

And the response has been much greater than I imagined it would be! I think it’s largely down to the competitive nature of our team members and the fact that we regularly send round a leaderboard with each person’s swag points total. Of course they drop down when they exchange them for the rewards and “spend” them, but they’re then keen to build them up again. It even got us over 10 volunteers for doing 3 night shifts in our warehouse clean-up operation a few weeks back! Suddenly we have a carrot that seems to be tasty enough to get people’s attention! 

The prizes vary, the costs / values vary, the work required to earn points varies, but overall the idea of Swag points seems to work. And why should I be surprised? It’s an idea I got from Amazon! If it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for us? It’s a helpful reminder to us all that there are some great ideas already out there, running day to day in some of the best companies in the world. There’s very little stopping us all finding out what they are and simply swiping and deploying them in our businesses. We just have to make the effort to find out about them, which is exactly what I’m off to do now!