Born out of founder Jeff Bezos’ regret at having not initially capitalised on the dotcom boom, Amazon began life in 1995 as an online book store. The first book sold was Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought. In 1998 Amazon spawned Amazon.co.uk, its presence on these shores, with the purchase of Bookpages.co.uk. In 2000, the emphasis on books was lessened; the logo introduced an arrow pointing from the A to the Z, representing Amazon’s intent to sell just about everything under the sun. Its fulfilment centres nestle in the US, South America, Asia and Europe – the Milton Keynes branch of which recently opened its doors to T3…
Dell is the only major computer manufacturer to trade almost exclusively online. Starting as a traditional mail order business, it began selling through its website in 1996. Dell’s model revolves around building machines to order. This is a more involved process than selling lots of the exact same thing in bulk, but in order to ensure deliveries aren’t slowed down excessively, Dell offers a range of around 150 “Ship Fast” computer configurations. These are ready to go, meaning each can be delivered to your door in
two to three days. Dell’s last financial results showed income of $2.6 billion.
Firebox (initially Hotbox, trivia fans) was the brainchild of Michael Acton Smith and Tom Boardman, two Cardiff University students, who set up the site in 1998 as a means to sell their drinking game, Shot Glass Chess Set, a fun-for-all-the-family number that combined the ancient arts of chess and drunkenness. Having moved to London in 1999, the company is now ensconced at a new site in fashionable Shoreditch, packed to the rafters with geeky gadgets and big kids’ toys. Firebox’s warehouse has a team of pickers
and packers who’ll ship your order out within 24 hours of receipt, so long as it arrives before 4pm. They’ll even manage same-day delivery if it’s dispatching within the M25.
Mr Porter is the web’s leading men-only clothing retailer, with an emphasis on high-end brands – Gucci, Burberry, etc – as opposed to, say, Ted Baker and Superdry. It’s part of the Net-A-Porter group of fashion e-tailers run out of Westfield, London.
The website provides a shopfront not only for cutting-edge clothes but also a full online blog and fashion journal, replete with designer interviews and comment. There’s also a paper magazine, distributed in London. The site features around 150 international designers and offers express shipping to 170 countries, with same-day delivery in London and Manhattan, along with a free collection service for returns and exchanges.
Ocado sells groceries from Waitrose and other brands. Its enormous food delivery operation runs out of just one warehouse in
Hatfield, gateway to “the North”. The system is made up of specially stationed pickers along a run of conveyor belts ten miles long. It’s growing, too: the fulfilment centre eats into the available space more every month. The baskets are automatically flung round to the correct places in the fulfilment centre for each customer’s order, at which point the humans step in. This way, the centre can pick about 16 items per second, or one million per day. Orders are then delivered using a fleet of custom-built, refrigerated Mercedes-Benz
delivery vans with GPS tracking. In February 2011, Ocado picked its one billionth item.