Black Friday busy as ever, says Amazon fulfilment centre boss

Black Friday is “as busy as ever” and Amazon is seeing no sign of a decline in its popularity, the boss of one its largest UK depots has said.

David Tindal, general manager of Amazon’s Swindon fulfilment centre, its second largest in the UK, told the PA news agency that the site was preparing for its busiest time of the year, between Black Friday and Christmas, as the site’s more than 2,000 staff ship millions of items a week.

Mr Tindal said: “There’s a lot of talk about whether Black Friday’s past its peak.

Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Swindon (Ben Birchall/PA)

“All I can say is from that from Amazon’s perspective it’s as busy as ever. We’re not seeing any sign of a decline.”

Mr Tindal oversees operations at the site, one of more than 30 across the UK, which has a footprint of 550,000 square feet, the size of about eight football pitches, and four levels.

Working alongside the staff are thousands of robots, and the combined workforce selects, packages and sends items from roughly 30 million in stock at the depot at any one time.

Amazon workers prepare to ship items (Ben Birchall/PA)

He said: “Black Friday’s really exciting. For us, the period from Black Friday through to Christmas is the busiest time of the year.

“We spend 10 months getting ready for this. We’re expecting it all to run super smoothly.

“We’ll be really busy but it’s a really good fun time. We do a lot of fun activities with the individuals who are working here.

Yellow shelves move around on blue automated robots (Ben Birchall/PA)

“I’ll get a chance to do quite a lot of the jobs in the building. It’s a great time of year.”

Asked about consumer confidence he said: “To me, it seems surprisingly buoyant at the moment.

“My wife and I were shopping in Oxford over the weekend and it seemed really busy.

Parcels move around on conveyor belts (Birchall/PA)

“Within Amazon, we’re busier than ever. There seems to be more and more demand.”

The £400 million distribution centre at Symmetry Park in Swindon, which opened in December 2021 creating 1,300 jobs, uses about 6,000 state-of-the-art robots, that cost several thousand pounds each, to find and transport stock to the point of sending.

The robots manoeuvre about the top three floors, with the ground floor mainly handling the receiving of goods and packaging.

Parcels move inside boxes on conveyor belts (Ben Birchall/PA)

The robots read barcodes on items and have sensors to help them slow down or avoid obstacles in their path, be that other robots or humans.

The site aims for an item to have been found and on a truck out for delivery within two hours of a customer placing the order.

However Mr Tindal said the site relied on the intelligence of its human staff, and total automation would “not arrive in our lifetime”.

Christmas decorations are prepared for shipping (Ben Birchall/PA)

However, speed of delivery was under constant review for improvement, and Amazon has announced it will start using drones to deliver parcels in the UK in less than an hour, starting in one yet-to-be-disclosed location at the end of next year.

The company already offers drone deliveries in two US states for goods weighing no more than 5lbs (2.2kg).

Mr Tindal said: “That’s what’s driven Amazon’s success, that obsession with what customers want.”