Amazon expands but competitors employ more B.C. staff

Jim Pattison Group and Walmart solidly atop BIV’s list of national/global companies

Walmart Canada’s vice-president of omni-channel operations and online grocery, Daryl Porter, at the Burnaby warehouse, where Walmart has launched home grocery delivery | Submitted Inc. (Nasdaq:AMZN) is rapidly expanding its B.C. workforce as its market capitalization soars above that of other retailers, but companies that operate a range of bricks-and-mortar retail stores continue to be large employers in B.C.

Amazon announced last month that it plans to open its third and largest Metro Vancouver fulfilment centre – a 450,000-square-foot site on Tsawwassen First Nation land that will follow fulfilment centres on Annacis Island in Delta and in New Westminster next to the Braid Street SkyTrain station.

The company plans to hire 700 full-time workers to staff the new centre; this is in addition to Amazon’s 2,300-employee workforce in the province – a staff count that is big enough for Amazon to rank No. 23 on Business in Vancouver’s Top 100 National and/or Global Companies Operating in B.C. list, which was released this morning (October 16).

Amazon’s Metro Vancouver fulfilment centres employ about 800 full-time employees while the company also employs about 1,500 British Columbians in downtown Vancouver offices, according to Amazon spokeswoman Lauren Lynch.

That makes Vancouver Amazon’s second-largest hub for workers, after its Seattle headquarters.

Future Amazon hiring will also include staff for a 1,000-employee office at 402 Dunsmuir Street, by 2020. Amazon has announced that it plans to hire 3,000 more employees to work at Vancouver’s The Post redevelopment in the city’s former post office on West Georgia Street, when that project is completed, likely by 2022.

Impressive forecasts for future sales helped Amazon’s market capitalization soar above US$1 trillion earlier this year, and that value has recently settled well above US$900 million. Its main competitor, Walmart Inc. (NYSE:WMT), in contrast, has seen its market capitalization mired far short of that – recently around US$275 million.

Walmart remains a formidable foe, however. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, ranked by sales, pegged at more than US$500 billion in its last full fiscal year. Walmart also towers above Amazon when it comes to its number of B.C.-based staff – 10,071. That is more B.C.-based employees than any other company that has national or global operations, except for the Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group, which bases 19,147 employees in the province, according to BIV’s list.

The Jim Pattison Group does not break out how many of those B.C.-based employees work at its grocery stores, but the largest slice of the group’s workers in the province is employed at the company’s Overwaitea Food Group division – a subsidiary that includes stores branded Save-On-Foods, Overwaitea Foods, PriceSmart Foods, Urban Fare and Bulkley Valley Wholesale.

A different subsidiary of the Jim Pattison Group, Buy-Low Foods, operates grocery stores such as Nesters Market and Meinhardt Fine Foods.

Banners such as Save-On-Foods have long offered online ordering and grocery delivery.

Walmart has been expanding its B.C. operations and recently launched grocery-delivery services across Metro Vancouver thanks to a partnership with Food-X, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD). Amazon’s Whole Foods chain does not yet offer online ordering for groceries in B.C.

“We believe that there are a lot of efficient and positive environmental impacts that are available if you partner with someone,” Daryl Porter, Walmart Canada’s vice-president of omni-channel operations and online grocery, told BIV.

“Our orders being picked alongside of SPUD’s orders allows a picker to maximize efficiency. From an environmental standpoint, if we were to start up tomorrow, maybe our trucks wouldn’t be full going to every part of the city right away. But since we will have Walmart orders and SPUD orders on the same truck, you maximize the capacity of the truck.”

Food-X in August launched deliveries out of a new 74,000-square-foot warehouse in Burnaby. Products for SPUD, Walmart and the SPUD-owned grocer Be Fresh are stored in the facility.

“We don’t have as many stores in the downtown core of Vancouver as we would like, and we knew that we needed to set up some sort of operation for the entire Greater Vancouver area,” Porter said. “This allows us to turn on home delivery for the entire market right away.”

On October 11, Walmart Canada opened its 48th B.C. store. The Burnaby location is equipped with a large Asian food section. The company also announced that it plans to invest $175 million in its network of Canadian stores – an investment that it said would create 2,500 construction jobs.

Several of the stores will be updated to provide a better omni-channel experience for customers and make it easier for them to pick up online in-store purchases. •