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Photograph by Alexa Welch Edlund/Richmond Times-Dispatch
Ice cream, anyone?
A speaker from Amazon gave a live demonstration of just how quickly the company now delivers.

A bit of a parlor trick? Sure. But it was a pretty good one when a delivery of diapers, ice cream, and bananas arrived in the middle of a talk at Ukrop Auditorium in January.

The speaker welcomed the interruption because it made his point about the ability of his company, Amazon, to get a vast array of consumer goods to customers astonishingly quickly.

Greg Grilliot, the speaker, is general manager of a Richmond facility that in earlier times might have been called a warehouse but Amazon calls a fulfillment center. The revised nomenclature emphasizes goals over means. What the facility exists to fulfill is 21st-century customers’ expectations.

In the mid-1990s, Amazon made its mark as an online bookstore with a vast collection and better prices than the bookstore in your neighborhood. Its wild success prompted the company to expand its offerings and shorten its delivery windows.

Delivery periods measuring weeks quickly became days. And now, in select markets with fulfillment centers like the one Grilliot manages, deliveries are measured in hours and minutes through a service called Amazon Prime Now. The elapsed time between Grilliot’s click at the beginning of his talk to place his order and its arrival was 28 minutes.

At the moment of delivery, Grilliot had just finished showing his audience a video about how the center works. A half-hour later, as he wrapped up, he referred again to the packages at his feet and told students about the expectations others will have of them.

“You’re going to have to use your ability to deliver results,” he said, “to set you apart from your peers and others around you.” He then made a delivery of his own: a closing pitch for his company as the right place for Richmond students to begin their careers.