Commentary

Jobs for humans and robots at Amazon’s planned Essex fulfilment centre

Amazon robots

Amazon is to create more than 1,500 new permanent jobs with the opening of a fulfilment centre in Essex in Spring 2017, the online giant has announced. This news comes fast on the heels of the Doncaster fulfilment centre announcement of a week ago.

Amazon says this is all part of its ongoing strategy to grow its UK fulfilment centre network in order to meet customer demand, increase its product selection and support ever more third party Marketplace sellers with Fulfilment by Amazon. All these facets of the business require space to pick and pack orders, and to store everything from designer trainers to flat screen televisions.

While a huge number of workers will be needed at the Tillbury centre, Amazon’s ‘robots’ are also being rolled out across the UK to streamline the fulfilment processes.

Robot power

Amazon’s fulfilment centres in Dunstable and Doncaster are already using them, and this ‘advanced Amazon robotics technology’ will be deployed at the new warehouse in Essex from 2017. The robots slide under a tower of shelves where products are stowed, lift it and move it through the fulfilment centre. The robotic technology also helps speed order processing time and reduces walking time by moving the shelves to employees, reducing the time taken to stow items for sale or pick them for new customer orders. Amazon says they also save space, allowing for 50% more items to be stowed per square foot.

John Tagawa Amazon’s Vice President of UK Operations, said: “The Amazon teams are dedicated to innovating in our fulfilment centres to increase speed of delivery while enabling greater selection at lower costs for our customers. The introduction of Amazon Robotics is the newest example of our commitment to invention in logistics on behalf of our employees and our customers.”

Amazon fulfilment centre

Amazon’s Hemel Hempstead fulfilment centre

Jobs for the humans

Amazon will begin recruiting for a range of positions for the Tilbury fulfilment centre later this summer. The firm is looking for operations managers, engineers, HR and IT staff, and people who will handle customer orders.  Permanent employees at the new fulfilment centre will receive competitive pay which rises to £9 per hour after two years’ service in the greater London area.

These new positions are in addition to the 3,500 new permanent full-time jobs Amazon expects to create in the UK in 2016 spanning Head Office, R&D Centres, Customer Service Centres, Fashion Photography Studio, AWS and Fulfilment Centres.

“We are excited to announce that we will be opening our 13th fulfilment centre in the UK in Tilbury in spring 2017 to enable us to continue to expand our product selection, support more third party sellers including small businesses with our fulfilment expertise and meet growing customer demand in the UK,” said Tagawa. “We are delighted to be creating more than 1,500 new permanent full-time jobs with competitive wages and comprehensive benefits starting on day one.”

Amazon is working hard to be an ‘employer of choice’ by offering attractive employee benefits and a living wage. Things like the Career Choice programme should generate goodwill amongst the workforce. This provides fulfilment centre employees funding for adult education, offering to pre-pay 95% of tuition and associated fees for nationally recognised courses, up to £8,000 over four years.

Our view

We’re witnessing an Amazonian mission to speed everything up. This additional fulfilment centre is in line with Jeff Bezos’s obsession with brining product physically closer to the consumer.  Back in 2013 he told Fastcompany.com:

“What you see happening, is that we can have inventory geographically near major urban populations. If we can be smart enough—and when I say ‘smart enough,’ I mean have the right technology, the right software systems, machine-learning tools—to position inventory in all the right places, over time, your items never get on an airplane. It’s lower cost, less fuel burned, and faster delivery.”  So here in the UK, as in the US, there’s been a rush to open fulfilment centres in strategic locations that can make next day delivery possible (and cost effective) for more customers.

But Amazon also has its eye on the prize of profits from Fulfilment by Amazon. In 2015 the number of Marketplace sellers using Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA),  where Amazon stores, picks, packs and delivers items on behalf of sellers, increased by 40%, Amazon says. As of Q4 2015 more than 40% of all units stocked in Amazon’s UK fulfilment centres are FBA products from Marketplace sellers.

As e-fulfilment provider for its ‘tens of thousands’ of third party Marketplace sellers, Amazon generates a revenue stream beyond its core retail business, and can potentially increase the service charges when it sees fit. With new facilities like the one planned for Tilbury and Doncaster, state of the art technology will boost the service Amazon can offer. Will the prices it charges its sellers go up accordingly?

Amazon is getting the hang of people management, having learnt the hard way that a poor employer brand can be devastating when you’re trying to hire large numbers. Good employee relations will help build a positive brand image, at least until the robots take over!

 

Image credits:

  • Amazon for editorial use only