From 'water spider' to 'swag bucks,' 15 secret terms only Amazon workers know, and what they mean

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From 'water spider' to 'swag bucks,' 15 secret terms only Amazon workers know, and what they mean
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
  • From "water spider" to "swag bucks," Amazon workers have their own internal language.
  • Many company terms refer to secretive productivity measurements and employee programs.
  • Insider compiled a list of 15 code words and acronyms used by Amazon employees and what they mean.

1. Swag Bucks, also called Swaggies

"Swag Bucks," also called "Swaggies" or "Amazon Bucks," are a kind of company currency that can only be spent inside Amazon. Its physical description varies across warehouse locations - one Amazon worker told Insider they have been rewarded with monopoly-like bills featuring Bezos' face in the center. As a way to encourage productivity, workers can spend them on items like T-shirts, lanyards, and water bottles from Amazon.

2. CRaP

A company acronym for "Can't Realize a Profit," Amazon CRaP items include bottled water, paper towels, and snack foods. Usually selling for less than $15, these bulky items are costly to ship - leading to slim or no profit margins. In 2018, Amazon cut back on selling CRaP products in order to focus on more profitable items.

3. Hire to Fire

Amazon has a goal to get rid of a certain percentage of employees every year, and three managers told Insider they felt so much pressure to meet the goal that they hired people to fire them. The practice is informally called "hire to fire," in which managers hire people, internally or externally, that they intend to fire within a year, just to help meet their annual turnover target.

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4. Water Spider

In a warehouse, "water spiders" are workers tasked with keeping work stations fully stocked. At Amazon, this means carrying boxes of goods to a "stower" who then places the items onto merchandise racks. Once the rack is filled, a robot rolls it away and replaces it with an empty one. When a customer orders something from Amazon, the robot brings the rack to a "picker" who sends the ordered product on a conveyor belt to a "packer" who then boxes it up, a process broken down by The Atlantic in 2019.

5. Stow Rate / Pick Rate / Scan Rate

Hourly productivity rates calculated for each worker, depending on their role in the warehouse lineup. If a worker falls behind on their rate, they can be written up and eventually fired, a system that The Wall Street Journal coined "Bezosism."

6. Power Hours

Power hours are when managers try to pump up warehouse workers to work even harder for 60 minutes, sometimes motivating them by saying workers in other departments have been talking smack or outperforming them. At the end of the hour, staff members can be rewarded with swag bucks or prizes.

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7. Make Rate

A phrase used by Amazon workers to describe keeping up with the hourly stow, pick, or scan rates expected of them. Strict time constraints and high productivity targets have led delivery drivers and warehouse workers to take drastic measures such as peeing in bottles, Insider previously reported.

8. Focus

Amazon's "coaching" program for underperformers. Insider previously reported on an internal memo that shows Focus is part of a strategy to meet its goal to get rid of a certain number of employees each year, usually 6% of its corporate workforce. In most cases, being enrolled in Focus prevents an employee from applying for other positions within the company, according to employees and internal memos and emails viewed by Insider.

9. Forte

Amazon's employee-feedback program. This year, Amazon rolled out new Forte performance ratings based on a number of factors, including job-specific skills and peer reviews, Insider's Eugene Kim and Ashley Stewart reported.

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10. Day One

Jeff Bezos' philosophy for running Amazon like it's always the company's "day one." That means fighting off stasis and always working within the vitality of a startup, something that's become Amazon's "mantra for longevity," according to Insider contributors Ram Charan and Julia Yang.

11. Peak

Peak season at Amazon lasts from Black Friday to Christmas. Thirty current and former Amazon workers across the US, the UK, and Europe told Insider about the "brutal" reality of working during the holidays, when 60-hour weeks are mandatory and ambulance calls are common.

12. S-team

What Amazon workers call a group of roughly two dozen senior executives at Amazon that work closely together on key business decisions.

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13. VTO / UPT

Company acronyms for "voluntary time off" and "unpaid time off." Sources told Insider that when workers dip into "negative UPT," meaning they have taken more than their allotted UPT, Amazon can be ruthless. If there's not enough work to go around, managers will sometimes offer unpaid voluntary time off, or VTO.

14. URA

One of the key pieces of Amazon's review process is a metric called "unregretted attrition rate," or URA, which represents the percentage of employees that managers aren't sad to see leave the company - whether they part ways voluntarily or otherwise. Amazon's CEO closely follows URA metrics, according to internal documents obtained by Insider.

15. OV / HV

Employee performance measurements that stand for "overall value" and "highly valued." Under OV ratings, Amazon managers group their employees in three broad buckets of performance grades - top tier (TT), highly valued (HV), and least effective (LE), according to internal documents reviewed by Insider.

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