Business club learns more about Amazon

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Here is the High Peak Business Club report from the September 26 meeting.

We all love Amazon. Oh yes, we do, writes Edwina Currie. The UK is now Amazon’s third biggest market (after the USA and Germany) with a £6bn turnover, doubled since 2010.

While High Street retailers struggle and shopping centres decay, true Brits are shopping as never before, on their tablets at home. Our guest was Mark Hemming, manager of the Rugeley Fulfillment Centre, one of ten in the country (soon to be 12).

This year alone, Rugeley has created over 600 permanent jobs. With over 300 million active accounts, the surprise was that 49 per cent are third party sellers. Sure enough, two were sitting in the room, the young McIlvanney brothers, Tom and James, in the smart clothes they sell from the Ensor Trading Estate in New Mills.

Amazon is behind the growth of many such small businesses in the UK, leading to £1.4bn of exports and supporting an estimated 74,000 jobs. Critics, please note.

The core principles and ethos have not changed since Bezos started selling books. Mark illustrated this with what happened last December 23 at Rugeley, whence several hundred thousand parcels were shipped to arrive for Christmas. At midnight only two were left.

“It wasn’t a question of whether they would get there on time, but which of us would deliver them,” Mark said. One manager volunteered, set out at 6am, collected his wife, then posted the selfie on the doorstep of the delighted customer. “He’d even remembered to put a Christmas sweater on,” laughed Mark. Breathtaking.

The next question is how quickly they will be able to deliver in future. “Not so long ago, we were wondering whether we could do next-day delivery,” Mark pointed out, but now it’s guaranteed with Prime. The fastest so far was in Birmingham, 43 minutes. They’re talking to the authorities about drones: you can see how they’ll work on YouTube with Jeremy Clarkson.

It’s more than parcels. Try Amazon cloud computing if you’re a big operation with peak demand – the Universities Clearing House UCAS, for example, mad busy for only a few weeks a year. And they’re pushing voice control; newly launched in the UK is the “Echo” device, called Alexa. You speak and she responds (an old man’s dream, says my husband). Be careful what you wish for, or it’ll be winging its way to you ...

One question was about excess packaging. If sellers send their stuff to Amazon Centres, it’s all scanned in 3D by ‘Cubiscan’ which works out which packaging is best. Most is still picked and packed by hand, though one wonders how long that will continue – John Lewis’ warehouses are semi-automated already. “People continue to be the heart of what we do,” said Mark.

On cue as he finished speaking and the bacon buns appeared, a black winking drone whizzed above the 18th green of Chapel Golf Club. Not Amazon’s yet, but courtesy of Digital Aviation, specialist UAV Drone operators based in Prestwich, showing us what they can do - a real glimpse of the future. Thank you, Anne and Bruce Torrance.

The next meeting at Chapel Golf Club starting at 7.30am is Friday, October 28, with speaker Brendan Dick, BT Manager for the Regions, talking about BT OpenReach and the internet. For more details, contact edwinacurrie@sky.com

In the photo, Edwina Currie shows Mark the drone hovering over Chapel Golf Club.