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Simon Duddy

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Early indications suggest Cyber Weekend bigger than ever 29/11/2017

Despite worries over Brexit and the Chancellor unveiling a gloomy set of predictions in the Budget, there has been a massive increase in parcel deliveries over Cyber Weekend, even exceeding predictions, according to carrier management platform MetaPack.

MetaPack is responsible for processing a huge number of parcel deliveries on behalf of the UK’s retailers and carriers.

The company saw a 26% year-on-year rise in delivery volumes processed across its platform over Black Friday and Cyber Weekend. 

This is an interesting early metric, suggesting eCommerce is far from running out of steam.

MetaPack expected to see a rise in delivery volumes of around 20%, but after shipping a total of 11 million parcels on behalf of European based retailers and brands between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the company confirmed that the increase was far higher than predicted.

These figures reflect other industry intelligence which indicates that while shopping on the high street on Black Friday fell away, eCommerce sales rose.

IMRG has said that the amount spent on UK online retail sites on Black Friday alone was up 11.7% to £1.39bn.

Of that spend, 39% was completed on a smartphone, with the device taking the highest share of sales against desktop and tablet.

This stronger-than-expected performance was achieved in spite of a number of factors that could have exerted a negative influence on growth, such as Black Friday falling relatively early (before payday for some). In addition many retailers ran their own discounting campaigns over varied times.

Even on Monday 13 November, a full week before Black Friday week began, there were 12 Black Friday-specific and 66 non-specific discounting campaigns live among the 210 retailers tracked.

Craig Summers, UK MD, Manhattan Associates added: “If retailers are to make the most of Black Friday, they need to make sure they are giving customers a reason to shop in store. They need to offer a truly omnichannel retailing experience by offering the same deals and the same quality of experience in store as online to lure consumers.

"And for those retailers still allowing their stores to compete with online, now is the time to make a change. Retailing in a customer’s eyes is channel-less and therefore the retailers should be seeing this the same way. The stores need to stop viewing the online channel as a threat, and work seamlessly alongside them to offer customers a unified experience, or risk losing them to another retailer.”

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The best of both worlds? 20/11/2017

A significant proportion of the UK forklift market consists of Chinese-built models, but it isn’t a massive chunk. Chinese trucks have certainly improved in quality over the years and rank favourably in price terms compared with European built models. What has tended to let them down is poor support.

Replacement parts are often hard to find, and if they can be found, take too long to arrive. Forklifts are more than pieces of machinery, they are links in a process of supply where continuity is king.

Baoli EMEA, owned by the Kion Group, aims to resolve this issue by combining Chinese manufacture with a back-up operation based in Italy, which can supply spare parts, as well as hold a lot of forklift stock.

You can read more here. It will be interesting to see how they do.

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Building the Matrix: Do you want in? 16/10/2017

“We are building the Matrix,” the man declared from the stage. No, this is not the opening line from some ropey novel, but a speech from the closing keynote at Gartner’s Supply Chain Conference in London.

The man was Gartner’s Kevin O’Marah and he looks a wee bit like George Clooney. His presentation took in brain-machine interfaces, smart dust, 4D printing, Artificial Intelligence and teleportation. Ok, I made one of those up – but can you guess which one? *

One thing was loud and clear from the presentation and from the conference in general. The pace of change is breathless and the future is here, right now. You may ask, what has that got to do with me? With the sheafs of paper covering my desk, a green screen monitor, a bumpy floor in the warehouse, dented pallet racks, and smoky old forklifts.

In answer to that question, one speaker from PepsiCo quoted sci-fi author William Gibson – “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

To continue the sci-fi movie theme, while Blade Runner asks ‘do androids dream of electric sheep?’ – real futurologists are asking do truckers dream of caring for the elderly? Lynda Gratton says the new digital industrial revolution will threaten jobs and change the tasks demanded of people. She predicts that semi-skilled men in particular could see a big shift in roles away from traditional masculine jobs such as driving trucks (or forklifts) to jobs that are focused on softer and traditionally more feminine skills such as as caring for the elderly.

But I suppose one does not negate the other. It is possible to be a caring, giving man who can help take care of vulnerable people, and drive a forklift too. Equally, driving a forklift or a lorry doesn’t make a woman less feminine or caring.

The pace of change is creating an understandable anxiety. In my opinion, a lot of these things won’t add up to much, but some will reach serious tipping points where they can no longer be reasonably ignored. Just look at how IT and the internet have revamped the way businesses operate over the last few decades. As for which trend will have real momentum, don’t look at me, I’m just a guy with a pen and notepad in the audience. But no, smart dust, smart dust is the future (not be be confused with that crackly sweet you dumped in your mouth as a kid) :-).

* Of course it’s teleportation, can get nowt past you!

Stored energy

One way to look at an electric forklift fleet in a distribution centre is as a repository of stored energy. It is unusual to look at it like that, however Fortis Battery Care, due to become Juice Stored Energy next year, see this very clearly and envisage forklifts and forklift battery care being a key part of a facility’s overall energy management plan – not just in terms of trying to save money by running forklifts efficiently, but also by using the stored energy for other functions on-site as and when appropriate. This is said to help drive greater energy independence. These could be exciting times for the warehouse manager who may not be aware of the energy potential of the trucks he walks past every day.

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Government shows its Brexit hand 04/09/2017

The recent Position Paper on customs revealed the Government’s aims in its negotiations with the EU. Some trade experts said it was foolish for the UK to reveal its hand before it had to, but it is likely the Government felt under pressure to provide certainty to businesses looking to plan ahead. The UK may also hope the Paper’s detail on Customs will force the EU to open discussions on this issue before the divorce bill et al is settled.

I think businesses now have as much certainty as they can realistically expect.

It has stated its preferred options, both of which are ambitious, because they are far from the EU’s stated position thus far. They essentially propose the UK have the benefits of being inside the Customs Union, along with the benefits of being outside the Union.

The Government has conceded the EU may not agree to the terms and has said that, in this eventuality, it will take a standalone approach, imposing customs, duties etc upon imports to the UK from the EU from Spring 2019. It is to be assumed that the EU would do likewise to UK imports to the EU.

Again, in terms of businesses planning ahead, there is not much ambiguity here.

One caveat is that the UK has outlined its desire for a transition period to help companies adjust. Implicitly, this may also be used to prolong negotiations.

I think the Government's 'have its cake and eat it' approach - while infuriating to many at the EU - is not as unrealistic as it appears to be at first. In my opinion, the Government's business as usual option on trade (option 1) is fairly likely to come to pass, not because the EU will love it, but because it puts the onus on the EU to change the trading arrangement if it dislikes it. Having not asked for this situation, the EU is unlikely to take the initiative. It will most likely be forced to act only when events push it to do so. What we have seen so far from the EU is that it will be slow, reactive, and measured. Probably. The situation is volatile and things may change quickly, but if Option 1 is de facto accepted by the EU, at least for an interim period, it will be work well for businesses currently trading within the EU.

You can read the full paper here.

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Waterworld warehouses 19/07/2017

Amazon has done it again. In filing a patent for underwater warehouses, the online retail behemoth has radically shifted our concept of what the warehouse could be.

The outlandish idea would see depots submerged underwater, with items summoned to the surface by acoustic vibrations.

Details of the patent, which was filed earlier this year in the US, show Amazon's vision for using lakes, reservoirs and purpose-built pools as fulfilment centres.

It shows a number of ways stock would be handled inside an Aquatic Storage Facility, such as items being dropped into the pools by parachutes or trucks.

As far as I can see there is no mention of water slides. Shame.

But in each case, packages would be contained within a watertight box, complete with an air canister. When the item is ordered by a customer, a noise transmitted under water would trigger the air canister to inflate a balloon to float the package to the surface.

The driver behind the idea is the search for a more space efficient way of storing items. Whether this rationale is strong enough to overcome the many obvious difficulties is another matter.

The concept joins another ‘out there’ Amazon patent unveiled last year, the floating warehouse in the sky served by drones.  

I am beginning to think these ideas may be just noise to distract us from the uncomfortable fact that Amazon is on course to take over much of the available traditional warehousing in key markets around the world, such as the UK.

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Software in the driving seat 26/06/2017

If you want to have a look at the modern face of logistics, you could do worse than visit the distribution centre of fast fashion retailer Quiz in Bellshill, near Glasgow.

On my recent visit, I was struck by its cross-dock operation. Distribution centre manager Alan More describes its role as pausing stock rather than warehouse storage. The aim is to swiftly carry out both store replenishment and online order fulfilment. In this kind of operation, the IT is just as important as the physical infrastructure. Shop managers, the merchandising team and supply chain management have got to be able to communicate seamlessly, and share a single view of stock. As well as installing the automated materials handling equipment for Quiz, systems integrator Logistex played a key role in supplying a WMS and tying this in with supply chain and ERP software.

I also visited Dematic’s new HQ near Banbury recently. It’s a very impressive facility, geared up for hosting clients and attracting talent. It’s like a little bit of Silicon Valley has dropped down to the Oxfordshire countryside. The event featured a rare opportunity to speak to Dematic’s top management and it was interesting to hear them talk about the primacy of software, it is where the innovation is, they say, and where Dematic spends most of its R&D budget. It also means you don’t always have to buy quite so much hardware. If your software can act as an order buffer, for example, then why do it the old way using a physical buffer of conveyors, racking etc?

Arguably Descartes is taking this idea further still, with the release of its Pixi* eCommerce WMS. Ignore the irritating name, the idea is the software will automate man to goods picking and other processes in your warehouse to drive the kind of efficiencies you will need to keep up with consumer delivery expectations. It sounds like it could save money as the software is designed to begin to drive efficiencies with your existing warehouse set-up, without requiring additional investment in hardware.

Indeed, if you have had experiences with new MHE systems, we’d like to hear about it. Drop us a line at sduddy@western-bp.co.uk and let us know. Knowledge sharing is valuable, there is almost always something that can be learned from hearing about the experiences of people in similar situations. In terms of other new products, I’d like to point you towards TCM’s new counterbalance truck, one of a number of new products the manufacturer has or will be unveiling this year.

Also, check out our annual supplement – The Warehouse – which features a dock shelter from Hörmann that is especially designed for vans. We are seeing the cascade of impacts that come from changing consumer shopping habits. More online retail orders leads to do more delivery vans on the road, which leads to more vans being loaded at DCs, which creates the demand for bespoke loading equipment, to ensure vans are loading as efficiently and safely as possible.

And look at that! We’ve got the to the end of the piece without mentioning politics, Brexit, or the General Election. So, let’s leave it there, as I am sure you are hearing enough about our super competent politicians elsewhere!

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A bit of how’s your grandfather 12/04/2017

We have an interesting take on Brexit this month from James Rollo as part of our write up of the recent Keep Britain Trading Conference held by the Freight Transport Association.

He’s an experienced negotiator of trade agreements, and says they tend to be slow, unsentimental and he tends to take a pessimistic view of the motivations of those engaged in them.

Among his more positive suggestions were that the UK should informally harmonise with the EU in terms of customs, tariffs, rules and regulations. This includes grandfathering. No, this isn’t taking an aged relative to the races for a cheeky bet and a pint of stout, it’s when trade agreements lapse and we act like they haven’t and continue as normal. The UK has trade deals via the EU with 50-odd nations. These will all become void when the UK leaves, but with grandfathering there would be an informal arrangement where trade continues as usual until both sides agree otherwise. Rollo thinks this would be great for the UK, but isn’t so sure all other countries will be up for it. Put yourself in the shoes of the Koreans, for example, they might not be willing to concede the same measures to the UK as they conceded in concluding a trade deal with the EU as a whole.

He also discussed the red lines that both sides have drawn up in the discussions, seeing, on paper, very little room for compromise. Basically, if a no-deal stalemate is to be avoided, either the UK or the EU is going to have to concede things it has said it will not concede. Who will blink first in this game of bluff?

For me, it is probable it will be the UK, it’s smaller and more exposed to the EU than vice versa, but there is plenty of opinion out there backing the UK to pull it off. There is a perception that the EU is a bit soft and bloated and that the UK will be too nimble and sharp elbowed for it. Indeed I spoke to a logistics professional a while back, not a Leave voter, but someone who was scathing of the way the EU has been run over recent years, and who suggested ‘we should be able to run rings around that lot’.

I just hope common sense prevails and a compromise is reached that spares either side crippling cost or too abject a humiliation. Too much to hope for? We’ll see…

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Scotland Works for Safer Logistics 12/04/2017

We’re very excited that our Safer Logistics brand will make it debut in Scotland in May, as part of the Scotland Works exhibition (May 3-4 at Glasgow’s SEC).

Safer Logistics partners for the event are the Fork Lift Truck Association (FLTA), RTITB, the regulatory body for workplace transport training, and the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT). Barrier specialist A-Safe is sponsor of the Safer Logistics Theatre area.

Visitors to Safer Logistics Scotland will benefit from key safety learnings from one of the world’s leading air conditioning manufacturers. The team from the Livingston site of Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning Systems Europe will present on both days of the key event for boosting safety in Scotland’s logistics industry. Attendees at the free event will hear how Mitsubishi promotes a positive safety culture in a big, busy complex containing six different facilities in Livingston with over 900 employees.

We are delighted with the strength of the Safer Logistics Scotland programme. The presence of such a number of industry bodies as well as heavyweight manufacturers based in Scotland mean there will be much to learn for those that can take a day out of the office or warehouse to attend this free conference.

We often hear how visitors to safety related events pick up advice, or make contacts that help their companies push on to the next stage of improving safety in their operations. This is the perfect opportunity for that.

Safer Logistics Scotland is part of a suite of six related B2B exhibitions for the Scottish market at Scotland’s best venue – Glasgow’s SEC. With its unrivalled facilities, central location and easy transport access, the soon to launch Scotland Works bids to become the best show in Scotland - and importantly show the world that Scotland has got what it takes.

You can see more at www.scotlandworks.com.

Safer Logistics is already a well established seminar and feature area at The Health & Safety Event at the NEC Birmingham (March 21-23), and launched as a campaign four years ago in Handling & Storage Solutions magazine where it has been helping to raise awareness on logistics safety hot spots ever since.

FLTA Awards

I had a great time at the recent FLTA Awards, attending as the editor of Handling and Storage Solutions, the media partner for the Awards. We’re proud to champion the FLTA Awards for Excellence and its efforts to showcase our industry’s leading lights. This year, to maintain the integrity of the Awards and avoid potential online voting manipulation, changes were made to the voting process, with the introduction of a jury to ensure that winners are determined on merit alone. This group of 12 men and women brought admirable experience and technical knowledge to the job and the Awards are all the better for it. You can see all the winners and finalists in our FLTA Awards special in this month’s Forklifts supplement.

Jungheinrich interview

A wide-ranging interview with Jan Lorenz, UK MD at Jungheinrich also features in our annual Forklifts supplement. It was interesting to here how different sectors are regarding Brexit very differently in investment terms, with those seeking to make long term investments more reluctant to commit.

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Is last mile logistics nearing a solution? 13/02/2017

A few years ago I wrote about the speed of growth in eCommerce and how logistics may struggle to cope with it. I thought if the fulfillment function (both in terms of warehousing and transport) reached its capacity, prices will inevitably be pushed up and that would put the brakes on the growth of online retail. While it is true that growing parcel volume and demand for fast and convenient delivery have been pushing fulfilment costs up dramatically, that might be about to change.

If it does so, the assumption that online retail will plateau may need to be re-visited. At The Delivery Conference Accenture spoke about the last mile, highlighting the start-ups that are entering the market. They are built around a ‘density’ delivery model utilising algorithms and self-employed couriers; rather than hard assets such as warehouses and trucks and vans. Basically they use self-employed couriers in their own vehicles to, at short notice of an order, go to the nearest pick up point, collect a parcel and deliver it to a consumer nearby. This operates at a much lower cost than a traditional logistics model, which will in turn give retailers more leeway to extend online sales.

This should not be as disruptive as early online retail, because it builds on existing retail store footprint and its attendant supply chain, using them as pseudo distribution centres. A truly Omnichannel solution. It’s a B2B variant on Click & Collect, with a courier picking up for the consumer and taking care of the last mile. Also in the Delivery Conference feature, we have building products supplier Wickes explaining how it delivers sameday and one hour slots with a courier using its Click & Collect process.

The model will be a threat to the traditional courier model, which sends vans from location to location, dropping off parcels. It is asset heavy and more expensive, with couriers owning sortation centres, warehouses, fleets of trucks and vans etc. However, it remains to be seen how scalable density models can be. They may be restricted to heavily built up areas, and their reliance on casual labour may cause problems down the line. We have an interview with one such start-up, Stuart Delivery.

eCommerce is also becoming more personalised for consumers. Their habits are monitored and retailers try to predict what they will want, and cater to their every whim - more choice and faster and more convenient deliveries. But is there a direct correlation between increased personalisation for consumers and increased dehumanisation of those working in the logistics sector? We see reports of workers at e-tailer Boohoo’s Burnley warehouse receiving a ‘strike’ for smiling, and there was the well-publicised abuses at Sports Direct.

I assume if you went back to the pre-eCommerce era, people who worked in warehouses were not subjected to these stresses and tightly regulated regimes. It’s important that our desire to enhance the experience of online shoppers does not diminish some of those responsible for making it happen.

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FLTA Awards Judging Day impresses 17/01/2017

In December, I attended the FLTA Awards Judging Day, looking closely at a number of product, company and individual categories. I was greatly impressed by the depth of quality on show.

All finalists deserve great credit for their nominations and the effort spent on making their case. The debate the judges had on the nominees was stimulating, it’s great to hear the opinions of a range of intelligent, knowledgable people from a range of different perspectives in the forklift, and broader logistics world. We can’t wait until the Awards night itself on March 4 at the Telford International Centre.

As well as being an enjoyable experience, there is no doubt the Judging Panel has led to a fairer process than the online voting system, which was open to abuse, just think ‘Boaty McBoatface’.

I was very impressed with the probity of the process and all of the judges involved and this will certainly increase the gravitas the FLTA Awards already undoubtedly enjoys.

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Simon Duddy is an experienced B2B editor and has worked across a range of titles including Handling & Storage Solutions, Heating & Ventilating News and Arabian Computer News.