For the two previous summers, our community has been infiltrated by legions of quietly intrusive stinkbugs. They seemed to magically appear, just out of the corner of our eyes, posing on a wall or lampshade.
Little did we know that these were just the first wave, doing reconnaissance for the main invasion: Amazon. Now, virtually on every street, at every corner, we catch a glimpse of an Amazon delivery truck slipping in and out of view.
Amazon first broke into our consciousness in 1995 with a simple concept: a place to buy books online. Their ads claimed access to all of the world’s contemporary literature available, and their warehouse was in outer space, “The World’s Biggest Bookstore”. We might have listened.
Today Amazon is the world’s second largest company, by market capitalization, following Microsoft, and just ahead of Apple. It has the world’s second largest retail sales volume, following Walmart.
It has up-ended the retail business model. In 1997 3% of its sales were attributed to third party sellers. Today, 58% of its sales come from third party. In response, 2019 saw the closing of 9,300 big brand retail stores in the U.S. The shift will continue.
The most physical sense of Amazon’s presence is its growing fleet of delivery vans. In 2019, Fedex and UPS and the United States Postal Service delivered approximately 13.9 billion parcels in the United States. But on its own, Amazon dropped 2.5 billion pieces at our doors. According to Morgan Stanley, that will increase to 6.2 billion in the next 3 years.
I remark on these stats primarily because we watch the daily procession of Amazon trucks that travel Butterfield Highway, between Libertyville and Mundelein. The company has leased space to stage its fleet in an available lot on Technology Way on Libertyville’s west side. There, independent owners and employees are regularly dispatched in squads of 10-15 vehicles at a time to head south to Allanson Road in Mundelein where they will pick up their allotted parcels for delivery. The system is efficient, and it is supported by a good road, courtesy of Lake County.
Just over the Illinois/Wisconsin Line, there is a vast Amazon distribution center off of US Route 94. It measures several football fields in size, plus parking lot. Not coincidentally, directly across the highway sits an equally large U-Line facility that makes shipping boxes. One wonders if there is a tunnel. According to Amazon’s 2018 statements, the company has 230 million square feet of fulfillment space. Its premises house nearly 650,000 employees. One might also wonder how many of those people used to work for Sears, Macy’s, Pier One Imports, Abercrombie & Fitch, Office Depot, Victoria’s Secret, The Gap, and Payless Shoes.
This is not a critique of Amazon in any way. The company’s mission statement is in part to serve a “customer-centric obsession”. To that end, it has grown from simply books to sales of more than 100 million items. Its website lists not a few business diversifications, but a vast portfolio of divisions relating to fashion, video streaming, groceries, pharmaceuticals, publishing, music, movies, web services, home automation and home security.
We can mourn the loss of the local store, but we have gravitated toward a business model that for much of our wants and needs, is just plain easy.
I wish I could feel as good about the stink bugs.