That’s no joke. Amazon is planning to open 1,000 mini-warehouses in suburbs and cities around the country. How long will it be before Bezos decides to expand to rural towns across the country?
Amazon became a behemoth on the back of a special provision that allowed it to charge consumers no sales tax when all of its brick and mortar competitors had to charge sales tax. Amazon has now grown to a scale that has allowed it to put the mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar stores which define the character of many towns across the country out of business.
How does a small retail operation survive Amazon’s onslaught?
Bloomberg has more on Amazon’s plans.
A recently opened warehouse in Holyoke, Massachusetts, exemplifies Amazon’s answer to this existential challenge. Located not far from a once vibrant mall, it’s just a short drive from more than 600,000 people. The goal is to creep closer to almost everyone in the U.S.
Beyond Amazon’s retail rivals, the mass opening of small, quick-delivery warehouses poses a significant threat to United Parcel Service Inc. and the U.S. Postal Service. Being fastest in the online delivery race is so critical to Amazon’s business that it doesn’t trust the job to anyone else and is pulling back from these long-time delivery partners. Amazon is basically duplicating UPS’s logistics operation. Many of Amazon’s new hubs are within walking distance of UPS facilities.
“In just a few years, Amazon has built its own UPS,” says Marc Wulfraat, president of the logistics consulting firm MWPVL International Inc., who estimates Amazon will deliver 67 per cent of its own packages this year and increase that to 85%. “Amazon keeps spreading itself around the country, and as it does, its reliance on UPS will go away.”
Amazon declined to comment on its expansion plans, and the company has said its last-mile delivery efforts are meant to supplement, not replace, its long-time partners. “Our dedicated last-mile delivery network just delivered its 10 billionth package since launching over five years ago, and we’re proud to provide a great service for our customers,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.
The company’s appetite for real estate is so strong that many analysts have speculated that Amazon would convert vacant department stores into distribution centers. In fact, that option is only a last resort, said the people privy to the company’s plans, who requested anonymity to discuss an internal matter.
Department stores such as J.C. Penney are often two stories and lack sufficient loading capacity, they said, meaning they require extensive remodeling to accommodate an Amazon delivery hub. Moreover, mall leases with existing tenants often prohibit the owner from introducing a delivery hub that could spoil the shopping experience, and city officials might not quickly approve an industrial use in a retail area. It’s more likely that dead malls will be bulldozed to make way for an Amazon warehouse, as they have in the Midwest, than for an Amazon delivery station to sprout in a half-vacant mall to coexist with Kay Jewelers and Cinnabon.
Still, analysts expect underutilized retail space to make way for more e-commerce delivery stations due to rising rents for industrial space, along with a surge in store vacancies. “Any time you see retail being occupied by non-traditional retail uses, they’re just holding off what’s inevitable,” says Rick Stein, principal at Urban Decision Group, who estimates the U.S. has 50% more retail real estate than it needs. “It’s a Band-Aid, and at some point that mall is coming down.”
In the past three years, 13.8 million square feet of retail space has been converted to 15.5 million square feet of industrial space, including vacant shopping malls razed to make room for new warehouses, according to a July report by the commercial real estate firm CBRE Group Inc. That trend will continue but not quickly enough for Amazon, which is building new facilities and moving into existing warehouses where it’s faster to get a hub up and running.
Amazon usually puts new delivery stations inside existing warehouses or signs long-term leases with development firms like ProLogis Inc. to build them to its exacting specifications. Typical delivery stations are about 200,000 square feet—about one-fourth the size of one of the company’s giant fulfillment centers—with large lots where workers can park their personal vehicles and Amazon can stage delivery vans. About 20 tractor-trailers arrive each night to drop off packages, which are loaded into hundreds of vans each morning before drivers fan out to make their rounds. In the afternoons, hundreds more Amazon Flex drivers, who use their own cars, arrive to deliver whatever’s left. A typical hub can generate more than 1,000 vehicle trips each day, often in areas where roads are already congested.
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