Amazon geared up for Christmas rush

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THERE’S not a gaudy bauble or a string of tinsel to be seen. Not a Christmas carol in the air, and no whiff of mince pies or mulled wine.

There probably is an artificial tree and a Santa sack somewhere among the four floors stuffed with more than one million different items. To find them you’ll need a finely tuned sense of direction, a fancy scanner and a comfy pair of walking shoes.

Seemingly endless rows of goods at the Dunfermline depot. Picture: Alex Hewitt

Seemingly endless rows of goods at the Dunfermline depot. Picture: Alex Hewitt

This might look like just a supersize storage facility staffed by people in fluorescent jackets and a collection of forklift trucks. Indeed, that’s ­precisely what it is.

However it is also the biggest Christmas grotto in the land.

And in a couple of weeks’ time, the 1000 permanent staff – and hundreds more brought in to help Amazon’s Dunfermline Fulfilment Centre cope with the seasonal rush – will become some of the busiest workers around. Today, though, the massive warehouse on the edge of Dunfermline is relatively peaceful – just a banner strung over the despatch hall reminds workers that this is “Where the magic happens”.

Instead to see it at its most impressive – and to be left reeling at the rate at which we frantically click and buy as Christmas fever kicks in – requires a visit in a few weeks’ time, on Cyber Monday when Britain quite simply goes Amazon-loco.

“Our busiest day was Cyber Monday last year,” nods Nicola Sweeney, 36, Amazon’s regional operations director. “That was December 2, when customers ordered 4.1m items in one day – that’s 47 per second. And we’re ready for the same again this time around.” She is standing at the edge of one of four sprawling floors within the pick tower of the Dunfermline centre, where the items are stored on colour coded shelves.

Like an enormous fairground infinity mirror, the scene seems to stretch forever.

All around is a bizarre and mind-boggling selection of totally unrelated items – things you might find should you chose to simply randomly click on Amazon pages: Power Rangers Megaforce figures piled beside a bike helmet, below a jigsaw puzzle which is alongside an electric toothbrush, a wireless speaker and, of course, a saw. A toy aeroplane, a laptop bag, dozens of sieves, a football, an artificial topiary ball, a cuddly toy . . .

Nothing seems to be in any kind of order. And at first glance, Nicola agrees, the idea of being able to find what you want seems an impossible challenge.

Yet using cutting-edge technology and an army of workers who rack up mile upon mile a day walking from one part of the one million square feet warehouse to the other, picking, sorting and delivering items to the next stage of the process – like a massive colony of non-stop endlessly busy ants – somehow what we click and buy in the comfort of our homes actually arrives.

The warehouse is the equivalent of 14 football pitches, but its randomness poses no challenge at all to ‘pickers’ such as Matthew McIlroy, 26.

Thirty years ago, he might have been one of the thousands of men working at Rosyth Naval Dockyard or one of Fife’s pits, however today his entire shift involves collecting the likes of Scooby Doo toys and Top Gear car care kits, baby bath toys and boxes of Articulate! and sending them to be packaged.

“I never get lost,” he shrugs, clutching the computerised handheld scanner which tells him what he’s looking for and the row in which to find it.

Items have already arrived downstairs by truck and trailer at the centre’s massive inbound dock.

There they are sorted and given individual licence plate numbers – a unique code that identifies them wherever they are in the system.

When someone buys an item at home, the message to collect it arrives on a picker such as Matthew’s scanner.

Collected, it is then sent downstairs to the cavernous dispatch hall to be packaged – sometimes gift wrapped by a dedicated bows and ribbons team – weighed and then sent on its way.

But while the online store has transformed the way we shop, it has been attacked too: last year it paid only £4.2 million in tax despite selling more than £4.3 billion-worth of goods and there has been criticism over its treatment of workers.

Nevertheless, in the hall where the “magic happens”, Amazon boxes stuffed with miles of brown paper packaging make their way to the shipping office and into a fleet of waiting trucks.

According to Nicola everything is in place for another bumper cyber Christmas. “We’re ready,” she grins. “Bring it on.”

A monster in every way

AMAZON’S Dunfermline centre is the size of 14 football pitches at over one million square feet.

More than 1000 permanent “associates” are based at the centre, plus hundreds of seasonal temporary staff.

The Dunfermline Fulfilment Centre sends items to tens of millions of customers worldwide.

The centre has a separate gift wrapping squad responsible for tying ribbons and bows onto parcels. On ‘Cyber Monday’ last year – the first Monday in December – Amazon sold 4.1m items the equivalent of 47 items per second.

Black Friday, at the end of November last year, saw Amazon discount more than 2000 items.

The Dunfermline Fulfilment centre has well over one million items stored over four floors.