Amazon Fife: centre the size of 17 football pitches gears up for busy Christmas
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From shop floor to viewing gantry, from packing to dispatch, it is an operation on a scale you rarely see.
Shelving runs as far as the eye can see, and every space is filled with items ready to be packed and dispatched. At first you think you’re looking down through a series of mirrors as they extend deep into the building only for someone to appear with the next order to be dispatched. Virtual tours are also in operation with a camera guiding people through the myriad of lanes.
If you want to know where your High Street went, it’s here somewhere among the colour-coded sections which sprawl across one million square feet of floor space - the equivalent of 17 football pitches - that all lead via a network of conveyor belts to dispatch and on to a loading bay packed with trucks waiting to be loaded to hit the M90. You can just see the traffic racing to and from the Queensferry Crossing from one of the gantries looking down on the vast bay.
You’ll find cook books next to perfume, computer games next to hair products - there isn’t a specific section for each category as you’d find in, say, a library.
Picked and packed on to conveyor belts, they are then stamped with your own delivery details before heading into dispatch.
Amazon has been part of the motorway’s landscape for a decade, but it’s often forgotten it started out in Fife along the A92 with an operation at Bankhead, Glenrothes that was significant in scale, but still one fifth in size of the current fulfilment centre.
That underlines just how online shopping has completely changed the nature of retail.
Where we once visited shops in person, now we scroll on our phones, order what we want, when we want confident they will arrive the next day. No High Street retailer can possibly compete with that level of service.
The day of my visit co-incided with Amazon’s busiest day of the year - busier even than Black Friday.
It came slightly earlier than in previous years, but tracking, and responding to spikes in orders is what the business does on an hourly basis - there’s an area set aside for the latest hot tickets. The staff’s role is t make sure they’re geared up the minute the orders start arriving.
“Black Friday is the starting point and we see that rise right up to Christmas,” said Jamie Strain, general manager.
Our busiest day itself fell slightly earlier - shopping habits may be changing, and people may be ordering earlier to make sure they get the items they want for family and friends.
“It’s very busy but we are geared up for it.”
Evening, from 8:00pm right up to 11:00pm is now a major time for orders, and Amazon will continue to ship our orders up to the 23rd for Christmas
“We have to anticipate customers orders, and any changes spikes for particular item,” said Jamie. “We have a great UK network which aims to be flexible. That’s what makes us a reliable online retail organisation. If we see a spike, customers trust we will deliver - they get what they want when they expect it.”
The numbers behind Amazon’s operations are huge. Some 2000 employees - 1200 permanent and 800 seasonal.
Over 85,000 UK-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sellers use Amazon to sell their products - almost 50% of its market is handling goods on their behalf, and that work goes on across several shifts 24/7.
And once the Christmas rush is over, attention turns to the next big spike - January returns. The “third peak” as Jamie described it.
“When Christmas is done there is some time for maintenance, and then we are ready to start again as New Year sales kick in immediately followed by the returns.”
The pandemic saw a huge rise in online shopping as almost all shops closed their doors, increasing the pace of change which has imp-acted on every town centre.
For Jamie, who moved into the GM role in Fife just before COVID - he was previously operations manager at its Gourock facility - it meant lots of instant changes.
“We had to make changes to the way we worked to keep people safe, with regular temperature checks - we were testing every day and teams loved it as there was a sense of safety when you came here.”
Back to normal operations, the Amazon team will join the volunteers at the Cottage Centre in Kirkcaldy this week as its Christmas appeal reaches delivery day.
The links between the two saw the fulfilment centre help staff and fill the warehouse for The Cottage’s ground breaking project which has seen hundreds of thousands of goods to help families in need.
“It has been incredible,” said Jamie. “We’ve supported the centre for a full year to help get them up to speed show them how to operate a warehouse.
“We’re still sending items to them every single week, and there are some incredible stories coming back about being able to help people. It’s been great to see people coming together as a force for good.
“The staff here played a huge part in creating that link. We asked which charity we should support and they came back with the idea for the Cottage.
”We’ll keep that going into 2023 and keep helping families through it.”