It’s six months since Amazon’s game-changing Prime Now service arrived in Yorkshire. Lizzie Murphy looks behind the scenes.
When Amazon launched its one-hour delivery service in 2015, opinion was divided.
Some were excited at the possibility of receiving their shopping in less than an hour, while others worried about its potential impact on the high street.
But like it or not, Amazon’s Prime membership is increasing its popularity.
Membership grew 51 per cent last year. Amazon refuses to divulge exact figures but there are millions of members in the UK.
Prime Now, which offers more than 15,000 groceries to Amazon Prime members, launched in London in June 2015.
The service now covers more than a third of the UK, including selected postcodes in West and South Yorkshire from two delivery station in Leeds and Rotherham.
It’s the ultimate in fast retail delivery and so when I arrive at their Leeds delivery station, off Dewsbury Road, which opened in April this year, I expect to see whizzing robotics.
It’s probably because it’s Thursday lunchtime but the small warehouse, stacked with toys, gifts, groceries and toiletries, is eerily quiet.
Individual products are placed, seemingly randomly, on rows of shelves - a video game next to a book, next to a box of nappies.
“It’s all intentional by design,” says Jason Weston, director of Prime Now UK.
Orders that come into the warehouse through a mobile app, appear on a scanner and are assigned to a member of staff called a ‘picker’.
The scanner shows the picker the quickest route round the warehouse for the order and they collect the items and place them in paper bags on a trolley.
Orders are scanned and labelled with the customer’s name and address before waiting to be collected by drivers employed by local firm OHL (One Hour Limited).
Two-hour slots are the most popular, but, according to Weston, the one-hour slots, which are only available in certain postcodes and cost £6.99, are helpful to customers in urgent need.
When those orders come into the warehouse, a bell is rung to alert pickers to prioritise them. According to one member of staff it happens a couple of times a day.
It’s a surprisingly manual process, although Weston points out that the clever technology operates behind the scenes.
Across the Prime Now network, Amazon has created hundreds of jobs, although Weston declines to reveal exactly how many people are employed.
He describes the customer response in Leeds to Prime Now as ‘phenomenal’. “They come back and use the service again and again,” he says,
Weston says Amazon is expanding across all its categories and even he is surprised by some of its stock.
In the summer his daughter broke her leg and she was struggling with her crutches. “We needed to go out that afternoon so I went on Prime Now and we were able to get a wheelchair delivered in two hours,” he says. “That surprised me.”
The quickest delivery in Leeds so far is a video game, which the customer received within 10 minutes of ordering.
The most popular items in West Yorkshire are bottled water, soft drinks, milk, bread, and the Amazon Fire TV stick, similar to other regions.
Last month, Amazon launched a new restaurant delivery service in the UK as part of Prime Now.
If the London trial is successful it will be rolled out to other parts of the country, rivalling the likes of Deliveroo.
Delivery services like Amazon have been accused of threatening small businesses, quality of life for locals, pollution, and unfair competition but Weston insists Amazon has a place in the retail sector.
“Prime Now is a reflection of how customers’ lives are changing and we are creating additional choice for customers,” he says.
“What we’ve heard from customers over the years is that they really value fast delivery.”
He adds: “Customers’ expectations are going to keep getting higher and it’s our job to make sure we’re delighting customers.”
Prime Now offers one-hour delivery on more than 15,000 popular items to Prime members in selected postcodes in West and South Yorkshire.
Prime customers who pay £79 a year for membership, can choose delivery within one hour of ordering for £6.99, or free delivery within a choice of two-hour, same-day delivery slots between 8am and midnight, seven days a week.
Customers can choose from items such as nappies, coffee, chocolate and fresh milk, as well as other items like games consoles, toys, gifts and sports equipment via a mobile app.
There are more than 30 Prime Now delivery stations nationwide, including two in Yorkshire in Leeds and Rotherham.