You can track the arrival of this year's Christmas retail shopping season from the Help Wanted signs sprouting in post-mall retail-warehouse districts.
For example, on the edge of Burlington City, where the new Radial and Walmart Jet "fulfillment centers" are staffing up, just down U.S. 130 from the headquarters of Burlington Stores Inc. and Destination Maternity.
It's not just shoppers and shippers who are extra busy as the holidays close in: It's also thieves. Since this summer, when the credit reporting agency Equifax let hackers steal the names, birth dates, addresses, and Social Security numbers of more than 143 million Americans, the black-market cost of your personal data has gotten so cheap, they're almost giving you away.
"Before, you could buy 500 credit cards and addresses on the Dark Web for $5" — a penny a person, says Michael Graff, senior fraud manager for King of Prussia-based Radial, an operations and logistics company serving online retailers. "Now, for that same $5, you're getting 5,000 cards, and a quality of data that has improved dramatically.
"There are now thousands of these people operating, from places we used to think were safe," he said.
Thieves have high-value small-sized items sent to temporary addresses in Delaware, Oregon, and other states fraudsters favor (no state sales tax; close to ports). Then those overnight-delivered packages can be grabbed before the sellers realize they were purchased with stolen data, Graff told me.
The thieves get bolder as Christmas orders surge, betting merchants will risk filling bad orders, to get all the good ones out.
That problem has meant more business for companies like Radial, which helps clients compete with Amazon, among other ways, by predicting which orders are most likely to be bogus, instead of "playing whack-a-mole" once losses are discovered and thieves are gone. Radial's private-equity owners agreed two weeks ago to sell the company to Belgium's Bpost for $820 million; Bpost says it plans to expand Radial, formerly eBay Enterprise, as part of its global delivery and logistics service.
To help retailers speed new orders and stave off theft, Radial is adding new secure warehouses like the one in Burlington. "This is our first peak season," says Alex Economos, director of fulfillment operations for the plant, a short walk from the Burlington station on the River Line. The light-rail train has helped feed the warehouse boom in the neighborhood, Economos says: Unlike the built-out Pureland industrial park and nearby warehouse centers in rural Gloucester County, where he used to work, Burlington is a short public transit ride from Camden, Trenton, Center City Philadelphia, and the old factory towns east of the river.
"We've added over 100 people" since opening in August, says Patrick Koreck, the plant HR manager. He ran a warehouse on the site for Sports Authority until that company went into bankruptcy liquidation last year, and has hired back former colleagues. A few took pay cuts to work with people they trusted, Koreck said. A seasoned team helps attract good staff in an industry where "we all use the same systems," Economos told me. (Though Amazon uses more robots, he added.)
"We are going to get to 350 to 400 people by Thanksgiving," most of them for the temporary holiday season, Koreck said. Wages for experienced hourly hires top at around $16 an hour. The company has brought in contractor Accu-Staff to build up faster. It has arranged midday and evening shifts for parents juggling busy families.
While apartment, retail, and office construction in cities like Philadelphia is slowing in recent years, "logistics and distribution continue to be a real growth area" in the region, says Bruce Van Saun, chief executive of Citizens Financial Group, one of the region's largest business lenders.
The Philly area draws new-generation warehouses because it is well-served by truck roads, rails, and ports. Slow growth has also left real estate and labor "reasonably priced," compared with metro New York and Washington, he added.
Even if Philly isn't named Amazon's second headquarters, at least it can be America's warehouse.