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Technology is the key to keeping up with the demands of e-tailers

This is a guest comment from Link 51.

With online retailing set to continue its upward course alongside an increasingly unpredictable demand for goods, technology looks set to play a pivotal role in helping companies keep up with fast moving goods through the warehouse.

The changes we are experiencing, from less predictable seasonal patterns to more erratic short-term trends, have the potential to cause major headaches across the logistics industry.

The complexities of the marketplace mean that e-tailers have to work smarter and respond faster to the ever more sophisticated demands of consumers.

How do traditional warehouse managers keep pace?

With retailers such as Debenhams recently reporting a 46.2% increase in online sales, John Lewis predicting online sales to account for 40% of turnover by 2020, and food and consumer research and training charity IGD reporting that online sales of groceries, worth about £6.5 billion now looks set to grow to £15 billion by 2018, keeping one step ahead of the game is crucial.

A recent Vocollect survey highlighted the concern that many logistics managers have, with 46% of those asked saying their primary worry was managing the ever-changing volume of business.

Similar concerns were raised last year in a Link 51 White Paper, titled Making Space for Growth, in which 60% of those UK PLC warehouse retailers questioned said the changeable UK economy and difficult-to-predict buying patterns meant that improving customer service was the most urgent challenge.

The White Paper, an industry report and barometer on economic confidence in production and retail sectors, warned that shifts in market demands required organisations to push market intelligence, flexibility, and planning to the top of their agendas.

“Consumer behaviours and retailer innovations, including e-tailing, underline the need for logistics and warehousing sector to up their game and place innovation at core of their offering,” wrote the authors (Link 51 and UKWA).

So, what can the UK’s logistics managers actually do to ensure they are ready and prepared for all the challenges that e-tailers throw at them?

Technology is the key to managing these changes because it provides myriad solutions for efficiency drives and ensures accuracy and speed of handling by person and product type.

Shuttle systems are a good example of this. These high-density pallet storage systems enable remote working, as well as free and easy access to the stored pallets in the warehouse, regardless of whether it works to a FILO, FIFO, push-back, drive-in or pallet live racking system.

Shuttles, which are programmable for overhang and can cater for ambient and chilled products, are ideal for companies that have relatively low SKU’s with high quantity and volume of pallets. Shuttle systems are also leading the way when it comes to driving efficient warehouse management practices that also save time and money because they free up forklift trucks, which improves throughput and speeds up the load and unload times.

Plus, because they can potentially improve throughput by up to 75% compared to drive-in systems, shuttles are proving to be perfect for fast-moving environments.

Managing an e-fulfilment warehouse is a complex operation, regardless of the size of the e-tailer, because of the mix of SKUs, products sizes, weights and types. Flexibility is important because warehouses need to be able to serve bulk quickly, while servicing individual small item pick and pack deliveries requires a combination of adaptable racking, shelving and workbench solutions.

For retail especially, being a fast-moving environment, storage design has to be able to respond quickly and be able to reconfigure in line with product trends, seasonal fashions or expansion.

In other words: it has to be future-proofed to cope with changing demands. Proper planning and organisation is essential to ensure efficiency, and accuracy and speed of handling, by person, product type & sizes, from garment hanging and large goods, to the smallest of accessories.

To meet these increasingly sophisticated challenges, as an industry we have to approach it intelligently and remember the benefits technology can bring.

Simon Baugh, Marketing Director at Link 51

Link 51, as the UK’s largest manufacturer of pallet racking and shelving systems has extensive experience of the e-tail industry, and works with companies of all sizes, from the major retailers to niche start-ups, to help them future-proof their warehouse operation and business. Visit www.link51.co.uk