It’s Still Day One

Posted on December 1, 2008 in Uncategorized

10 years of Amazon.co.ukAmazon’s labour relationsAmazon’s relationship with publishers

Ten years ago, I was working in Ottakars in Slough.  I had just finished my Masters degree, but was still uncertain as to what to do next as a career.  However, I was certain that I did not want to work in bookshop management.  And then something miraculous happened: Amazon.co.uk opened up in my hometown.
The Amazon logo    It seemed like an ideal fit for me, as I was very much into the Internet, and had recently created my own website.  Amazon also started out selling solely books, so my bookshop experience would no doubt come in very handy.  I came through the rigorous interview process and was offered a job.  Being quite a loyal person, I decided to stay on at Ottakars over the Christmas period, and joined Amazon immediately after (so I only participated in 6 of the legendary Amazon Christmases).  When I arrived, they weren’t quite sure what to do with me, as they’d forgotten that I was due to start work that day!  My heart sank as I was asked to come back the next day at 5am to work in the Receive department. Fortunately, I was just as quickly bumped up into the Special Receive department, as I was told by one manager that I was probably the only one of the new recruits “who’d seen a book before” (this manager is now working as the CEO and founder of The Book Depository).
    My family were rather sceptical about my new job, especially it involved that new-fangled Internet thingy.  They were also quite doubtful that I would make any money from one of the perks of the job, the Amazon stock options.  Most of all, they, like many people at the time, were dubious that enough people would trust an online store with their credit cards (the same people now are probably saying that they will never read an e-book, but the success of Amazon shows that such attitudes do change over time).
    So, I was there at Amazon in the days when managers were fazed about the task ahead of them, unsure of how they were ever going to fill up that warehouse in Bestobell Road, Slough.  Then again, Amazon was quick to adopt new markets, such as DVDs, and was able to successfully jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon with the release of The Prisoner of Azkaban.  Being at Amazon had its ups and downs, but I very much subscribed to the dream of “work hard, have fun, and make Marston Gate 1history”, especially as my first degree was partly in History.  I remember popping out at work to witness a solar eclipse, but what was happening in the warehouse could equally be seen as being amazing, as Amazon became one of the fastest growing businesses ever, and in a whole new sphere to boot.
    Although, I did have one big frustration in those early days, in that Amazon wouldn’t say boo to a ghost.  Publishers regarded Amazon warily, not sure what to make of this new initiative, and were slow to make deals.  Which meant that we were very reliant on wholesalers such as Gardners.  One of Amazon’s most significant maxims was the importance of the customer: they had to come first.  Unfortunately, this could sometimes conflict with the terms and conditions of our suppliers.  I remember the Special Receive team being called into a meeting with a Gardners rep, who was visibly very angry with us, as we kept returning special receive books as damaged.  He waved around one particular book at us, which had a boot print on the inside cover, and accused us of having kicked it around the warehouse.  We weren’t allowed to protest in this extraordinary meeting, but I felt particularly aggrieved as I had been the one to take the book out of its Gardners’ tote, footprint and all, and had damaged it out as I was pretty sure that there was another copy of this fairly new book out there sans-footprint.  Nevertheless, the Gardners rep had a point: we were sending back too many special receive books, but the manner in which he made his point was wrong.  Yet he could afford to be aggressive with us, because Amazon as a whole was dependent on Gardners at the time.
    Amazon did actually fill the Bestobell Road warehouse fairly quickly, so in the Summer of 1999, all associates were called into an “All hands” meeting to be informed that the company was opening a new distribution centre in Milton Keynes.  We were invited to come along, and no doubt many like me were persuaded by the generous relocation package.  I continued to Marston Gate 2prosper in my Amazon career: having been promoted to tier two while in Slough, I became a recipient of the Amazonian Award in May 2000 (a trophy in the form of one of Amazon’s infamous “doordesks”), and eventually became a Customer Service Liaison.  And although Amazon still wasn’t making any money, it looked as though it had survived the bursting of the Internet bubble.
    On September 11th 2001, all associates were called into another All Hands meeting, to be told that two planes had been flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  Since Amazon was an American company, we were told to be more vigilant, and although one of the plane hijackers had been trained at nearby Cranfield, the distribution centre was fortunately only subject to hoax bomb threats over the next few years.

Click here to read more about Amazon’s labour relations during this time