Maria Torrent-March, Director of Europa Warehouse, a division of logistics operator Europa Worldwide Group, outlines the current e-commerce landscape for the logistics sector and the techniques which Europa Warehouse is effectively employing to meet ever-growing consumer demand.
“The challenge for warehouse operators across the globe is managing capacity – and in an age where e-commerce has reached a staggering value of almost $2trillion worldwide, warehouse space in 2017 is in greater demand than ever before.
“At Europa Warehouse, we have long been advocates of smart ways to enhance the capacity at our warehouse sites, from installing mezzanine floors to creating the layout of the space around a very narrow aisle design. Intelligent space planning, combined with our efficiency-enhancing automation systems, mean we are prepared for planned peaks in demand at pressure points such as Black Friday or Cyber Monday when volumes automatically increase.
“Our innovative Warehouse Management System (WMS), called Accellos, also plays a vital role in the success of our order picking operation, as it helps us to efficiently fulfil and manage increases in e-tail orders. For example, it supports single unit picking – which is the most common type of e-commerce order for our wines and spirits e-commerce customers – as well as retail orders, which are usually picked per case or per pallet. Accellos sorts orders according to common attributes, i.e. grouping orders which contain certain specific products, delivery dates, carton sizes or specific processes.
“With Accellos technology, we also have the ability to auto-print carriers’ parcel and pallet labels at the point of despatch and the manifest is automatically sent to the service provider on a regular basis. Additional functions such as attaching product or customer specific messages which are visible to the picker detailing if any specific processes need to be applied (eg. assembly, kitting, labelling, re-palletisation etc) also increase efficiency, supporting our overall goal of effectively managing the warehouse space we have available.
“However, managing operational requirements through clever warehouse layout, smart automation systems and cutting edge IT systems isn’t enough to ensure we always meet our customers’ demands in this digital age where consumer behaviour is constantly evolving and shifting. Our people play an absolutely vital role in the smooth running of our warehouse sites, as does consistent and clear communication with our customers.
“At Europa, we have taken a proactive approach to coping with the increased e-commerce demand by changing the historically more rigid structure of shift patterns. In the past, an original shift would have been from 8am to 5pm, but we now use a very fluid and flexible shift pattern which, simply put, means more staff are working during busier periods. Consumers are expecting later and later cut off points for next day delivery, so we are putting heavier resources into shifts towards the end of the day to meet that demand.
“We also supplement our core warehouse team with agency staff at particularly busy times of the year, such as Christmas, which we can pre-plan for – but we know we can also draw upon this trusted and reliable pool of extra staff at times of unseasonal demand, such as when a customer puts on a promotion to shift a certain batch of products, at potentially short notice.
“More and more, successful logistics operations are reliant on being able to accurately predict consumer demand, which is by no means as simple as it used to be. It is still possible to a point, but the sector needs to be considering alternative ways to maximise efficiency given that consumer demand for later and later order cut off points is on the rise.”
Europa Warehouse has three facilities at Birmingham, Dartford and Northampton which provide in total more than 42,000m2 of dedicated warehousing and logistics space for customers including market-leading trade sector brands, as well as blue chip companies.
Europa Worldwide Group employs 600 people across 11 sites in the UK plus Hong Kong and is represented in 100 countries.