Amazon uses AI to choose the right pack size

Amazon uses an AI model that smarter selects the right box, bag or packaging for each of the millions of unique items sold through the company’s warehouses.
Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/photo alliance via Getty Images

  • Thanks to AI, Amazon’s packaging has become more efficient in recent years.
  • The e-commerce giant has built an AI model that interprets images and text to choose the best shipping material.
  • The tool is critical in helping the company save 2 million tons of plastic and cardboard since 2015.

While most of the tech world focuses on shiny new generative AI tools, Amazon has tackled an ongoing challenge of modern consumerism: the proliferation of shipping materials.

The e-commerce giant has been developing what it describes as a “multimodal AI model,” the Package Decision Engine, for several years.

The PDE’s job is to smarter select the right box, bag or packaging for each of the millions of unique items sold through the company’s warehouses.

Amazon’s previous packaging strategy – chosen by humans and less intelligent computers – was often a source of customer confusion and ridicule towards the company. Frequent Amazon shoppers have almost certainly received a shipment containing a single small item in a comically large box.

Instead of humans performing physical tests, the company says products are now sent through a computer vision tunnel that collects dimensions and specifics (such as whether it has fragile parts or is already in a box).

These images are then paired with natural language processing of a text-based description of the product, plus other quantitative data to match the item with the ideal shipping solution.

While there are some unexpected reasons why larger packaging is actually a smart choice, Amazon says it’s committed to reducing the amount of cardboard it uses as part of its sustainability commitments.

It also makes sense from a business perspective: When shipping billions of packages, taking even a little bit from each package can yield mind-bogglingly large numbers.

The company estimates that using properly sized boxes, switching to softer mailers or eliminating packaging altogether now saves 60,000 tons of cardboard per year in North America alone.