JEFF BEZOS, the founder of Amazon, was once asked if there was anything the online store wouldn’t sell.
Brooms, replied the American retail genius. Cheap to buy but expensive to deliver.
In time, he was proved wrong, as The Yorkshire Post discovered during a visit to Amazon UK’s vast warehouse in Yorkshire on Black Friday, one of its busiest days of the year.
Not just one broom, but big brooms, small brooms and medium-sized brooms could be found in one of many aisles at the sprawling 450,000 sq ft facility outside Doncaster.
The warehouse was a hive of activity, filled with staff and agency workers wearing high-visibility vests and involved in a constant process of unloading, storing, picking, packing and shipping out again.
Support staff have bizarre-sounding titles like ‘Water Spiders’, workers who skim across the warehouse floor like spiders on water quickly solving problems as they emerge, helping Amazon to iron out any abnormalities in its ruthlessly-efficient operations.
The show is kept on the road by Paul Thorpe, senior operations manager and a former RAF Tornado navigator.
It is difficult to comprehend the scale of Amazon, the numbers are so mind-bogggling. The group achieved $74.5bn in sales last year, including £4.7bn in the UK, from a worldwide customer base of 230m people.
In terms of logistics, this equates to a full truck leaving one of Amazon’s eight UK warehouses every minute and 33 seconds. It sold 4m units on Black Friday last year. Amazon expects to top that this year.
The US group introduced the American discounting concept to these isles in 2010; the day after the Thanksgiving holiday is the traditional trigger for the start of the Christmas shopping season.
“A lot of our friends in retail, the majority, have Black Friday events as well,” said Ben Howes, PR director for Amazon UK.
“It took us by surprise how much people loved it.”
Amazon had 300 deals for its first Black Friday in Britain. This year, it has 3,000.
Driving Amazon’s all-consuming growth are an army of third-party sellers, ranging from large retailers such as Debenhams and House of Fraser to small home-based businesses.
Marketplace accounted for 40 per cent of global sales last year and tens of thousands of British businesses have signed up as members. They provide more than 100m of the 120m items for sale in the UK. Sellers can ship products themselves or, increasingly, they can use Amazon’s own infrastructure.
Amazon Logistics operates from 13 smaller delivery stations and provides a platform for third-party carrier firms to deliver goods on behalf of Amazon.
Shares in Royal Mail slumped this week after it warned that the growing service would more than half its growth potential.
Mr Howes said Amazon UK launched into the logistics space to ensure it had the capacity to meet demand, especially at this time of the year.
The success of Amazon has made a billionaire of Jeff Bezos many times over and led to multiple eye-catching new product developments, including plans for a delivery service using unmanned drones. But at the heart of the 20-year-old business, it seems, is a focus on the customer.
Chris Poad, director of seller services, told The Yorkshire Post: “Despite the interesting stories about Amazon’s innovations, most of our energy goes into the four components of low prices, broad selection, availability and innovative on-delivery services.”
Busiest-ever week for Amazon UK
Amazon UK expects Black Friday Deals Week to be its busiest ever week of trading in the UK.
Leeds-based Asda claimed that this year’s event had been three times bigger and better than last year, having doubled its Black Friday range, to 700,000 items.
Nationally the chain saw more two million transactions carried, something they said was the busiest single trading day of the year so far.
In the first two hours alone it sold more than 10,000 tablets.
In Batley there were heavy crowds at the town’s Tesco store resulting in chaotic scenes.
Video footage showed people clambering over each other to grab television sets.