EVER wondered what happens after you click ‘add to cart’ and send your online order into the ether?
A mind-boggling amount of work goes into making sure the right product is picked out of tens of millions of items and carefully packed ready to be sent off for delivery to countless customers around the country.
The massive new £400 million Amazon warehouse and distribution centre in Symmetry Park opened a month ago and had to hit the ground running to cope with the high demand caused by Black Friday deals and Christmas shopping which makes this the online retailer’s busiest time of year.
General manager David Tindal claims the four-storey facility, which covers around 547,000sq ft – six-and-a-half football pitches – altogether is the second-largest of its kind in the UK.
He gave the Adver a rare peek behind the scenes around the site which employs around 2,000 staff.
He said: “It was really challenging to get everything working smoothly because we normally open sites in August so we have a chance to catch our breath before the busiest months.
“But this time, everything had to go right first time and I’m thrilled to say it did indeed go amazingly smoothly.
“The entire team is of a really high standard and I’m so pleased with the engineering work because all the automation worked well – sometimes it needs to be de-bugged when a new site gets up and running.
“We’re reasonably busy at the moment. Black Friday and Cyber Monday were our busiest days, of course – I helped with the packing and picking, it was a big team effort.”
Some parts of the warehouse offer a view all the way along the length of the facility, where conveyor belts and rows of machinery stretch into the distance, seemingly endlessly.
Packages and products are always in motion overhead and the site is so vast that, even though the company employs a sizeable workforce here, they are so spread out that it seems sparsely-populated.
Although there is always a lot going on wherever you look, the staff do not seem stressed and work at a steady pace in casual clothing.
A few break rooms and toilets are on each floor, and some employees could be seen putting together festive displays like a sleigh made of Amazon packaging.
In among all the conveyor belts and operating lines on the ground floor is a hub of screens and office chairs which allows supervisors and engineers to oversee the facility’s daily progress at a glance and gather for meetings.
The warehouse is operating 21 hours a day, seven days a week, with three hours for regular scheduled maintenance.
David added: “There has been some bad press about Amazon but we do an enormous amount to focus on safety. We use tools and automation to make our worker’s lives easier and improve the customer experience.
“Automation moves the products around and manages the manual handling as much as possible while our staff are used for their intelligence – they will notice flaws with the products that machines cannot.
“Quality control and lots of other processes along the way make sure any mistakes get fixed so that, for example if the weight of a package is wrong or something’s been damaged, it’s sent to the problem-solving area.
“The sorting area upstairs looks like a library (see below right) and the pods move very closely to each other, like Tetris, but I’m not worried about anything going wrong.”
David has opened three Amazon warehouses around the country. The Swindon one is known as BRS2, as fulfilment centres are named after the nearest international airport, which in this case is Bristol.
He added: “We want to see the staff develop themselves personally and professionally.
“We’re most in need of automation and IT skills but we help them anything, even if it leads to them taking those skills elsewhere, because if they’re enthusiastic and happy they’ll work better and safer.
“HGV drivers has always been a popular choice, even before the shortages. We’ll be employing more associates in the new year and then we’ll be full.”
Products from big businesses and brands as well as smaller companies all come to the same place, so it’s the warehouse’s responsibility to sort through the stock and make sure everything goes to the right place.
For next-day deliveries ordered just before midnight or orders urgently needed on the same day, there is a way for them to be prioritised and sent through the system quickly.
Tens of thousands of UK-based small and medium-sized enterprises sell their products through Amazon’s website.
Around 60 per cent of physical products sold on Amazon are from third party sellers and the same percentage of small businesses on Amazon export to customers all over the world.
Once the stock is sorted and packaged, it’s sent off to delivery stations around the UK, including the one on South Marston Industrial Estate.
An effort is made to ensure that stock for Swindon customers is sent to Symmetry Park so that it can be delivered quickly.
The international retailer has 28 fulfilment centres and two receive centres in the UK.