When you live in a small town, your options for shopping can be limited. But some communities are trying to change their fortunes by welcoming the big box stores into their neighborhoods — and Amazon is one of them. The retailer has opened warehouses in towns across the country offering jobs, tax revenue and more options for residents who would otherwise have been left behind.,
Amazon has been a huge boon for small towns in the United States. Amazon is one of the few places where you can find nearly anything. The company’s low prices and convenience have made it a household name.
DARLINGTON, England (Reuters) – Amazon has long been a fixture in this historic market town. AMZN -5.95 percent com Inc. is partly to blame for the recent closures of a slew of local businesses.
Then Amazon decided to establish a warehouse here.
The plant, which opens in early 2020, employs 1,300 full-time employees, making it one of the largest employers in the area. During the end-of-year holidays, it employed 500 more seasonal employees. Wages start at £10 (equal to $13.25) an hour, which is more than the legal minimum, and perks include private healthcare and an £8,000 education stipend that may be paid over four years in installments.
The additional employment have all boosted the economy of the 100,000-strong Northern England town, while also prompting a rethinking of the e-commerce behemoth. Nicola Reading, the owner of a gift boutique, still blames Amazon for the local retail scene’s decline, but she now sees some benefit as well.
“It seems like Amazon now employs half of Darlington’s population,” she remarked.
Amazon, already America’s second-largest employment behind Walmart Inc., has been expanding in Europe and the United Kingdom since 2010, spending €78 billion ($89 billion) in a continent-wide growth that has increased dramatically in recent years. Amazon employs about 55,000 full-time employees in the United Kingdom.
According to Amazon executives and government officials, the company’s investment drive has resulted in a softening of perceptions against the e-commerce behemoth in the areas where it has invested.
Darlington’s MP in Parliament, Peter Gibson, said long-held fears about Amazon’s dominance haven’t gone away. “Do I want to see more employment in Darlington?” he said, adding that the town is better off with the Amazon warehouse. “I do,” she says.
Working at Amazon gives Rajesh Nayun, left, more flexibility than many other occupations, allowing him to care for his school-aged children in the afternoons while his girlfriend works her own shift in the Darlington warehouse. Roxana Rincu, center, assists in the maintenance of the facility’s hundreds of robots stationed in the massive storage facilities, and she appreciates the company’s job opportunities. On the bustling floor of the plant, Paul Tait, right, selects and boxes products for delivery.
Many critics continue to point their fingers at Amazon. Independent UK merchants staged a Black Friday protest in late November, shutting down their websites for a day to protest what they claim is Amazon’s and big-box stores’ domination. Activists blockedade 13 of Amazon’s 26 UK facilities, including the one in Darlington, on the same day, accusing the company of damaging the economy and the environment.
Amazon said that it takes its environmental obligations seriously and has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2040. It also emphasized its benefits to the UK economy, claiming to have generated 10,000 employment in the UK alone in 2021. Thousands of small merchants profit from utilizing the firm’s online marketplace to reach a countrywide audience, according to the company.
Almost half of Amazon’s European investment has gone to the United Kingdom, which, together with Germany, accounts for three-quarters of the company’s sales in Europe, its largest market outside of the United States.
As a result of the epidemic, Amazon’s growth in Europe has accelerated, as locked-down customers have rushed to the internet. With the aid of additional fulfillment centers and other smaller facilities, Amazon was able to keep up with demand. Over the last three years, the corporation has launched 11 new locations in the United Kingdom, including the one in Darlington. In the past two decades, just 15 new places were added.
Amazon’s sales in the United Kingdom increased by 51% in 2020 compared to 36% in the United States over the same year. According to Edge Retail Insight, it is currently the country’s second-largest retailer by sales, after only Tesco PLC.
Darlington authorities have praised Amazon’s entry, claiming that it has benefitted the community by producing employment. According to Mark Ladyman, the Darlington Borough Council’s assistant director for economic development, Amazon’s presence is encouraging young university graduates to remain in town and luring additional businesses.
Darlington, which formerly housed the world’s first public railroad, currently serves as a logistical and technical centre for England’s northeast. Cummins Inc., an engine manufacturer, has operated a manufacturing here since the 1960s. It thrived as a regional attraction in the 1980s, similar to many other midsize towns around the United Kingdom, where shoppers could find a mix of small retailers and the country’s most well-known brands.
Sue Forster, left, has spent decades working at a 150-year-old grocery booth in Darlington’s indoor market and is worried about the town’s retail future. ‘Town centers are merely changing, not going away,’ said Robin Finnegan, who founded his Darlington business 50 years ago. Supermarkets, out-of-town shopping malls, and the development of e-commerce, according to grocery worker David Gaskin, right, are to blame for small merchants’ diminishing chances.
“Once, all roads led to Darlington,” said David Gaskin, a trader at J.J. Blair & Sons, a 150-year-old grocery stall in the town’s historic indoor market, which houses traditional market stalls beneath a Victorian glass-and-steel roof. By the 1990s, Darlington’s heyday as a shopping destination was over.
Mr. Gaskin, 67, a 30-year veteran of the market, said, “First there were supermarkets, then there were out-of-town projects.” Dressers, a popular local stationer that began producing posters and schedules for the railway in the early 1800s, and other family-run businesses, went out of business in 2001.
The rise of e-commerce and the financial crisis added pressure. Local outlets of Marks & Spencer, the high-end U.K. grocery chain, and British Home Stores, a national department-store chain, closed.
Ms. Reading, who founded her gift business, Bliss Gifts, two decades ago, said, “I was suddenly surrounded by a ghost town of vacant shops.” According to the Centre for Retail Research, one-third of British retailers have closed in the last decade.
Then Covid-19 came, shutting some stores temporarily and others permanently, and employees in Darlington struggled to find new jobs.
When Amazon debuted in April 2020, Paul Tait, 27, who had previously worked at the adjacent Cummins factory, landed a job as a packer.
The Darlington facility, which can handle more than 2 million shipments each week, is a loud jungle of conveyor belts transporting anything from books and snack foods to toys and technological devices. Hundreds of orange robots meticulously position movable shelves filled with things in fenced-off storage spaces. Human operators, such as Mr. Tait, select and pack things for distribution among the machines.
The Amazon warehouse in Darlington can handle more than 2 million parcels every week.
Amazon has been accused of having terrible working conditions at its British operations by the GMB Union, which represents retail employees in the United Kingdom. Amazon’s labor policies have been attacked by the union for asking employees to do repeated jobs at an unreasonable pace. It also slammed Amazon’s health and safety record, noting severe incidents or near-misses at Amazon’s UK sites from 2016 to 2019.
In response to the union’s charges, Amazon issued a statement saying, “Amazon is a safe place to work.” It claimed that opponents had misrepresented its working atmosphere.
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According to official declarations from the town council, Amazon pays Darlington about £1.2 million in local company taxes each year, on top of employees’ salary and national taxes. It didn’t reveal how Amazon ranked among the city’s major taxpayers.
However, according to Mr. Ladyman, a Darlington council officer, the economic heaviness is causing new challenges. Other companies in the vicinity have found it difficult to employ personnel because of the warehouse. Pubs and restaurants, in particular, are having difficulty finding employees.
“Some can’t compete with Amazon on salary,” Mr. Ladyman added.
Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth, is taking on Amazon by guaranteeing speedy shipping from China to anyplace on the planet. The Wall Street Journal explores Alibaba’s biggest automated warehouse to see how robots and a massive logistical network are assisting the company’s worldwide expansion. Clément Bürge’s composite
Trefor Moss can be reached at [email protected]
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