The future planning of logistics operations has to include the here and now, as well as the almost here and the almost now…

In the past, businesses have looked to automation to solve the problems and technical issues that have acted as a handbrake to future long-term growth, with occasionally only a passing interest in rapid expansion. Smaller businesses have always had to focus on short term growth, staying in business is the number one priority, but the smart money also looks to the medium and long term future.

At the other end of the organisation scale, doing what’s right today, may not be what’s right for tomorrow – the dominant UK grocers, for example, have found to their cost that building larger and larger stores was no longer a sure route to growth.

The fast changing pace of the online world is promising some remarkable developments in the coming weeks and months, making the need to forward plan even more important.

Click and collect is continuing to grow; same day delivery is making headway and marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, Flipkart and Alibaba continue to dominate.

A fascinating example of how important the ‘marketplace’ approach can rapidly take off is seen in Australia’s leading e-retailer, CatchOfTheDay. The business didn’t even exist a decade ago, it began with five employees and a 200m2 warehouse. Today they sell an item every second and have 2 million customers.

See more about Catch Of The Day’s robots  here: 

A new Swisslog solution provides the company with a storage grid of 25,000 bins, served by 70 robots, picking and transferring goods to 4 Goods-to-Person picking stations. With improved inventory control, operational flexibility and ease of system expansion, CatchOfTheDay are both comfortably able to serve today’s customers and be ready for future growth.

However, some interesting developments may see the fragmentation of the sector, bringing the power and the pressures of eCommerce to an even wider retail base.

With mobile rapidly becoming a dominant reality, some retailers putting this at the top of their omni-channel agenda, the emergence of buying on social networks (social commerce) is likely to change the landscape yet further. How will the buying public respond to recommendations from Facebook friends? If the viral spread of cat videos, charitable causes and dubious urban legends is anything to go by, perhaps we can expect the sudden rise and dramatic fall in product popularity.

As ever, flexibility remains key. At Swisslog we already have a large number of impressive ecommerce experiences to refer to when determining how best to move forward with a new proposal.

The former logistics infrastructure of international fashion and jewellery retailer, Fossil, could not keep pace with its fantastic development. As respected fashionistas, they know a thing or two about trends. Swisslog helped create a new multi-purpose logistics center, highly flexible and very fast, while also being compact and reliable. Swisslog updated the existing infrastructure with a state-of-the-art shuttle facility: the SmartCarrier system, placing the business well ahead of its rivals in a highly competitive sector.

Being open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is also a challenge. Availability needs to be constant and shorter delivery expectations places greater pressure on the logistics process. For Swiss computer components company, Competec, the installed ClickandPick solution has no single point of failure as all inventory bins can be delivered by any of the robots to any picking location – providing virtually 100% access all the time. For the largest electronics distribution center in the country, that’s some claim, but with sales rocketing, it’s certainly paying off.

And in case you think we’re getting too focused on eCommerce, the offline experience too is evolving… but perhaps that’s a story for another day.

Swisslog’s Top 7 eCommerce Installations:

Competec: The Swiss Competec Group, located in Willisau, near Lucerne in Switzerland, consists of the IT trading company Alltron AG and Brack Electronics AG, as well as the logistics provider Competec. The Click&Pick system provides Competec with a scalable state-of-the-art storage and picking process, with the capability of handling increasing numbers of small quantity orders. In addition, the installed solution has no single point of failure as all inventory bins can be delivered by any of the robots to any picking location – providing virtually 100% access all the time.In 2014, Competec took delivery of the 1,000th AutoStore robot sold by Swisslog.

CatchOfTheDay: A division of The Catch Group, Australia’s largest e-Commerce group. The first AutoStore customer in the southern hemisphere. Gabby Leibovich, Founder of CatchOfTheDay, said: “This project will support our continued business growth and ensure fast, accurate and reliable order fulfilment to our customers. At the same time, it provides us with the ability to maximise our operational efficiency along with a significant reduction in operating cost.”

Fossil: An international company specializing in the design and marketing of handbags, watches, fashion and jewellery. Fossil has a presence in more than 100 countries. New products, as well as new sales channels that give customers easier access to its merchandise than ever before, are the driving forces behind this expansion. “We needed an adequate logistics solution capable of supporting our new sales channels with fast and efficient processes,” said Josef Otter, CEO of parent company Fesco GmbH.

Hat World: Hat World, Inc. commissioned Swisslog to install a state-of-the-art Omni-channel order fulfillment and storage system, at its central distribution center in Indianapolis. Tony DeFrench, Vice President of Operations described the project as supporting, “…our continued sales growth and ensure fast, accurate order fulfillment to our stores, 3rd party partners and direct E-Commerce customers. At the same time, it will provide us the ability to maximize our operational efficiency with reduced inventory investment.”

PostLogistics: From its portfolio of Click&Pick solutions for e-Commerce intralogistics, Swisslog implemented an integrated AutoStore solution for Swiss Post. A key requirement for the project team was interfacing the facility to the SAP EWM (Extended Warehouse Management) system. The state-of-the-art storage and picking solution provided is capable of processing late orders for next day delivery and is fully scalable for future expansion. “We tackled all the highs and lows and succeeded in getting the YellowCube solution up and running on time,” said Patrick Stucki, Head of Business Development at Swiss Post. “The comprehensive testing we performed was definitely worthwhile because in live operations there haven’t been any appreciable problems with the AutoStore facility or the SAP EWM system.”

DB Schenker: The global logistics provider has become the first to implement the pioneering CarryPick solution, part of the Swisslog Click&Pick e-commerce portfolio, for its customer, Scandinavia’s largest online toy retailer. The CarryPick solution consists of 65 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), 1 500 mobile racking units and seven ergonomic workstations, installed together with Swisslog’s proprietary control systems, WarehouseManager. “Together with Swisslog, we have developed an inventory management solution that is unique for online businesses in Europe. This is designed to deliver levels of productivity that exceeds all manual solutions in the industry,” says Anders Holmberg, Business Development Manager of DB Schenker Logistics.

Varner: A leading retailer of strong fashion brands in Scandinavia, Varner commissioned Swisslog to act as general contractor for the material handling elements of a new distribution center (DC) in Vänersborg, Sweden. The order comprises cranes and conveyors for pallets and light goods, a crossbelt sorter, a hanging garment solution and Swisslog’s proprietary warehouse management software and controls systems. The storage volume of the DC amounts to 40 000 pallet locations in a high-bay warehouse, 330 000 dynamic locations in the miniload system as well as 60 000 bins in an AutoStore small parts storage system. System operation services performed by Swisslog’s on-site engineers are also part of the contract. Integration of the material handling systems is due to start in April 2015 and hand-over to the customer is foreseen for summer 2016.