I’m an Amazon Prime member here in the UK, and have been since shortly after I moved to my current location, in the West Midlands, near Stratford-Upon-Avon. Until a couple of months ago, all my Amazon packages were either delivered by the post office (Royal Mail), or one of a handful of delivery services: DPD, UPS, Yodel and others.
But in the past month or two, things have changed. I now get most Amazon deliveries from different people in unmarked or rented vans. I had a chat with one of them recently, and found out something interesting. Amazon is quietly developing a delivery service of their own. They call it Amazon Logistics; at least that’s how it shown up on emails I get saying that a package has been sent, or on my Orders page:
Amazon currently has eight distribution centers in the UK and is planning to add 1,000 new jobs in the coming months. Unlike some of the warehouses in the US, the ones here sound like college campuses. Here’s one in Dunfermline, Scotland:
Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Dunfermline will be the biggest in the UK. The size of 14 football pitches, in fact. The site itself is right next to the M90 and A92, so it’s within easy reach of Edinburgh, Stirling and St Andrews. Surrounded by stunning scenery and filled with attractions that include a Norman abbey, a royal palace and a racing circuit, there’s plenty to do both indoors and out. And if it’s the great outdoors you’re after, you couldn’t pick a better place. Fife is full of pretty villages and stunning coastal walks — and, of course, you’re never too far from a golf course. But there’s more to Dunfermline than the landscape. There’s also a wide range of shops, bars and restaurants, plus a theatre and a host of music venues. And if that’s not enough, all the culture and sophistication of Edinburgh is just across the river.
But as the company increases its staff within these idyllic distribution centers, it is also seeking to save money on shipping. Creating their own network may do just that.
When I asked one of the drivers, he explained that they are all temps, recruited through agencies. Some of them drive their own vans, and some drive rented vans: some of the vans I see have the names or rental companies on their sides, and I don’t think I’ve seen the same driver twice. Drivers are paid by the mile, and they have a given number of packages that they have to deliver in the day. This number can vary, and the driver made it clear that it’s very hard to keep up with the demands, and that, unless they drive all day, it’s hard to make a good living. And deliveries can be made at any time of day, up to about 9pm, and even on Sunday. (I had a book delivered this past Sunday.)
The driver I spoke to explained that drivers are responsible for packages. If a customer claims they didn’t receive it, it’s the driver who gets docked. It seems that this is a fairly common practice, at least in certain areas, and, while the drivers note exactly where they left the packages on a handheld device, it’s hard for the to prove that they did deliver them, without getting signatures.
As Amazon eschews more expensive delivery services – they still use UPS and others for expensive items – they will certainly save money, but the question is whether customers will be as satisfied as before. With Amazon Prime in the UK, most items are available for next-day delivery. Using other delivery networks, it’s possible to track packages, and even know approximately what time they are to be delivered. (DPD has a system where you can see the current location of the driver who has your package on their website.) But with the new network, packages can come at any time, and are often just left in front of doors. I haven’t had any lost packages yet, but several have been a day late.
Frankly, I don’t need all my Amazon purchases the next day. It’s a benefit of being an Amazon Prime member, and I always choose that, but if Amazon were to offer a discount for, say, two- or three-day delivery, I’d likely accept that for many things I buy from the company. On the other hand, one reason I subscribe to Prime is because if I need computer hardware for my work, and I do need it the next day, I know I’ll (almost always) get it quickly. However, if packages can be delivered up until 9 pm, then I can lose an entire day; if the post office delivers the package, I get it by lunch time at the latest.
When I lived in France, the post office, using their overnight service, delivered most packages; DHL and UPS delivered larger or more expensive items. But France is much larger than the UK; in fact, the UK is an optimal size for an in-house delivery network. My guess is that, in the long term, Amazon will move this service from using terms in rented vans to a full-fledged part of the company with its own full-time employees. I would expect to see vans with the Amazon logo soon, which would also provide advertising for the company. It will be interesting to see how this works out for Amazon.
As I write these words, it’s 4:45 pm. I’m waiting on my Kindle Voyage, which is due for delivery today. If it had come by the post office, I’d have had it hours ago. But since Amazon’s own network is delivering it, I may not get it until later this evening. It’s not that big a deal, but the service was more efficient before.
Update: 5:52 pm, and the Kindle was delivered.
Update 2: Interestingly, I just noticed that For certain Amazon Prime orders (not all), there is an option to not choose one-day delivery, and get a £1 credit toward MP3 files, Kindle books or Amazon Prime videos.
This is the first time I’ve noticed this. I did see that, for some items (I tried putting a few different items into my shopping cart, then going to check out), this option is not available. It may have something to do with which distribution center has the item, or what the cost of shipping a specific item is. My guess is they use second-class mail for the 3-5 business day delivery, and save more than £1. If I’m not in a hurry, I’ll be very happy to get a £1 credit for each order like this.