Love it or loathe it, Black Friday entices millions across the globe to part with their hard-earned cash. While plenty of stores have Black Friday sales, Amazon still has the crown. The web giant’s warehouse in Over Hulton is busy sorting millions of packages for customers across Europe ahead of the big day. MARY NAYLOR went to find out how they do it.

STEP into Amazon’s futuristic warehouse in Over Hulton and you are exhorted to “Work Hard. Have Fun. Make History”.

Beyond the scanners and reception desk lie a maze of convey belts, lifts, SLAMs, boxes and cardboard, all aimed at making sure you get your order on time.

The “fulfilment centre” is staffed by “associates” and has been open in the Logistics North site by the M61 since August.

Since opening there has been one goal – get ready for Black Friday.

General manager, Paul Ashraf, said: “Launching a new site comes with a level of responsibility and privilege. There’s a short window between launching in August and ramping up for Black Friday. It’s been quite full on.”

The fulfilment centre employs 1,200 staff and is taking on an additional 1,500 for Black Friday and Christmas, the website’s “peak” period.

Across the 450,000 square foot building ­— five and a half football fields ­— items are received, stowed, picked, packed and shipped with the help of robotic shelving and the army of staff.

About 50 per cent of the items processed at the MAN3 site (it is named after the airport), are from the small or medium businesses which sell on Amazon’s site.

These items are received and unpacked and sent upstairs to one of two floors filled with 18,000 fully-automated shelving columns (called pods). These pods are moved around the floor using small, orange robots (drives) which lift up the shelves and scoot them around the floor to where they need to be, presenting the right shelf to the right employee at the right time. There is even a beam of light to tell the staff member which shelf the item ordered is on.

Each pod has about 110 bins in it, each holding a handful of items which could be anything from headphones and DVDs to board games and juicers.

The 2,500 drives know where they are and where to go because of QR codes implanted into the floor for them to read.

The computer screen workers are looking at knows the weight and size of the item(s) being packed and tells the staff which box to pick. A corresponding button on a “water activated tape” machine prints out exactly the right length of tape to seal the box. The water in the machine wets the adhesive, like licking a stamp.

Over Hulton’s fulfilment centre deals with smaller sized items. Mr Ashraf said they are anything up to something the size of a box of disposable nappies.

Others deal with larger items like fridges and mattresses while the centre in Swansea (CWL1 for Cardiff Airport) only handles clothes and shoes.

As part of the packaging process each box gets a barcode which tells the system what’s inside and where it is going and who is shipping it, a conveyor takes it to the SLAMs (scan label apply manifest). These nifty machines read the barcodes and print the shipping labels and stick them to the parcel using a jet of compressed air.

Then a high-speed conveyor whizzes the packages off to be sorted into gigantic boxes which will be sent to one of Amazon’s distributors, like Royal Mail, DHL or Hermes. These items could then end up anywhere in Europe.

This year’s Black Friday sale actually started last Friday and finishes on Sunday, making it the longest event yet.

During these 10 days of cut price goodies the Over Hulton site will handle and ship millions of items.