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Swisslog debuts ACPaQ, a fully automated solution for creating mixed pallets

The robot-based ACPaQ solution is the next milestone in the successful cooperation between Swisslog and KUKA. This world-class intralogistics innovation is the latest development to emerge from the bundled robotics and intralogistics know-how of the two leading providers. Swisslog showcased this system for fully automated mixed-carton picking and palletizing for the first time at the recent LogiMAT exhibition in Germany.

Swisslog’s robot-based ACPaQ solution will automate one of the most important areas of the intralogistics operations of successful retailers: creating customized mixed pallets for individual stores from single-SKU pallets. This innovative palletizing system has a highly modular design. It combines robotics solutions for depalletizing and palletizing with CycloneCarrier shuttle technology and enables a fully automated process controlled by the SynQ warehouse management software which, compared to traditional methods, doubles or even triples the speed of picking cartons in distribution centers based on store layout, item groups or item classes.

At the core of the ACPaQ solution is the RowPaQ cell featuring a state-of-the-art 5-axis jointed-arm KUKA robot. It is equipped with a flexible gripper with adjustable forks which allows it to pick up as many as four cartons at a time even if they don’t have the same size or weight. A RowPaQ cell is capable of setting down up to 1,000 cartons per hour in the exact location predefined by the palletizing software. The solution is completely scalable and additional RowPaQ cells can be added to the system to increase throughput as required.

Networking new and proven technologies

Robot-based palletizing builds on an intelligently organized process. Before cartons can be palletized in sequence, they are first separated, loaded into trays and stored temporarily in the highly dynamic CycloneCarrier shuttle system. Even before the warehouse management system issues the palletizing order, Swisslog’s software autonomously performs a complex calculation process based on product parameters to determine the best way to load the pallet. The cartons are then transported in the exact sequence from storage to the RowPaQ cell. After palletizing is complete, it is shrink-wrapped and transported via conveyor directly to the right shipping station.

“ACPaQ is the perfect combination of KUKA and Swisslog know-how in one solution,” says Dr. Christian Baur, Chief Operating Officer of the Swisslog Group and CEO of Swisslog Warehouse & Distribution Solutions. “As a result, our customers benefit from a solution that significantly outperforms manual palletizing processes not only in terms of packing density and dimensional stability but also in terms of cost effectiveness and ergonomics.”

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I versus Robot?

Machines are increasingly taking over tasks that humans have performed for decades. From Luddites in the 1800s to modern day “digital refuseniks”, some have always resisted change, and yet today’s robots are more capable than ever. So will workers rejoice at being unshackled from repetitive and dangerous tasks, or should we brace ourselves for high-performing smart warehouses becoming deserted dark logistics facilities?

It’s a common story, told throughout our modern history, where innovation is challenged by tales of fear and dread. Perhaps the outcome is never quite so stark. In many areas, robots make life easier; they are guiding vehicles autonomously, they function as underwater researchers or assist in surgeries that require precise hand movements. Industry and logistics also offer many possible applications for robots, a development driven primarily by the tremendous progress achieved in digital networking, control and sensor technologies, and generally lower integration costs.

Despite the fact that advances in technology are also accountable for healthier, happier and longer lives, and that often they are primarily there to help humans, rather than replace them, for many, their excitement is tempered by the potential impact on future employment. However, findings from recent studies in Switzerland and the US indicate a more promising outlook.

Swisslog is a world leading automation specialist for robotic and data-driven intralogistics solutions and is at the forefront of the new frontier, dubbed Industry 4.0.

It believes logistics managers should consider the advantages of automation and the opportunities it brings to the table. “Robotics and automation clearly offer more opportunities than risks, but only if we embrace them as drivers of future growth,” states Dr. Christian Baur, COO of the Swisslog Group.

Robots collaborating with human operators

While the wider belief is that warehouse automation means removing human interaction, Swisslog’s Automated Item Pick solution is based on a shared picking principle: The robot picks the items that it is able to pick – which can be up to 95% of the customer’s product range – and a worker finishes the order.

According to Kirt Laeske, Product Manager for Robotics at Swisslog, there are definitely signs that the work environment of logistics centers are changing. “Today, robots no longer need to work in isolated safety areas. They perform their tasks side by side with humans, and are already able to take over the simple and repetitive tasks of unskilled workers during order peaks and personnel bottlenecks.”

Laeske believes that there is no reason to fear that robots will replace the work of humans in logistics centers. “Machines are better than people at performing repetitive and uniform tasks, but they lack the elementary cognitive skills required for many logistics activities.”

In its pursuit of optimization along the value creation chain, Swisslog sees little benefit in deploying robots as stand-alone solutions, but rather to carefully combine the skills of human beings and machines.

Employment growth through robotics and automation

It is important to openly discuss the opportunities that come with advancement in automation, says the company, while equally assessing the wider impact on staffing, corporate responsibilities and the wider public perception.

“Industry 4.0, robotics and automation pave the way for greater process efficiency in logistics,” stresses Dr. Christian Baur. “Machines are ready to work 24/7 and support considerable volume increases and improved utilization in spite of the persistent trend toward smaller order sizes. These effects ultimately lead to increased delivery speed, improved delivery reliability, greater flexibility and higher customer satisfaction,” states Baur. “All these things bring about greater efficiency in logistics, driving the creation of new roles and alternative jobs such as in systems programming and support.”

Harvard economist James Bessen has recently shown in a working paper that merely one of the 270 detailed occupations listed in the 1950 US Census has since been abolished at the hands of automation. The only occupation listed that has taken a hit from the rise in automation in the past sixty years is elevator operator – hardly an indication of a technological uprising.

A recent study of the Swiss employment market performed by the Deloitte auditing and consultancy firm came to a similar conclusion. Although automation did replace certain jobs over the last 25 years, overall it boosted demand for labour. “Work will not disappear,” stated the study. “On the contrary, technological progress in Switzerland is estimated to generate approximately 270,000 new net jobs by 2025.”

The human touch

So, will there only be two types of human roles in the future, as some believe, either telling a robot what to do, or doing what one tells you to do?

“The truth is that progress always aims to reduce the cost, simplify, speed up and improve the efficiency of complex or repetitive operations,” concludes Dr Baur. “Yet, so many of society’s roles require the human touch. Aircraft can land themselves, algorithms can diagnose disease, and software can provide legal advice, but we still see the value in pilots, doctors and lawyers. We are not ready to give up humanity just yet, but we are able to release them from some of the more onerous tasks.”

The experts at Deloitte agree, citing the complementary effects of automation versus what it calls ‘pure substitution effects’. Rather than simply put people out of work, these (human) experts believe that the current technological upheaval will shift jobs within and between sectors, simultaneously generating risks and opportunities for employees.

“This distinction is important because it implies very different economic outcomes,” James Bessen wrote in a Vox column last year. “If a job is completely automated, then automation necessarily reduces employment. But if a job is only partially automated, employment might actually increase.”

Regardless of what the expert economists think, future-proof professions, for today at least, include all those in which creativity, adaptability and interaction with people or machines play a critical role.

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Kudos for Swisslog blog

Huge congrats go to our friends at Swisslog for winning a Gold Award for Best Vendor Blog in the Warehouse Technology Writers’ Awards 2017!

The automated intralogistics provider and long term TB Marketing customer took the award home for recognition of the superb work on their website.

Swisslog’s writers were praised for the blog’s well-researched opinion pieces and ability to present complex topics in an easy-to-follow manner. The easily navigable page structure was also applauded.

The Warehouse Technology Writers’ Awards recognise top writing talent across the warehouse and supply chain industries from all types of publication, with categories for both vendor and independent blogs, and for individual writers.

The final results were decided by a combination of recommendations from the two awards judges and a public vote. Awards judge and Explore WMS editor Kathryn Beeson said: “We had a lot of top quality entries to the awards, making the judging process an enjoyably difficult one. Nevertheless, I felt that the insights Swisslog’s blog provides and its clear presentation of complex subjects really stood out.

“As we were judging the blog as a whole as well as the articles on there, I was also drawn to Swisslog’s breadth of content and the clear layout.”

As a thought leader in the automated intralogistics community, high quality content is a necessity for Swisslog. Last year, over 60 news releases, 26 new movies, 20 case studies, 19 blog posts, and nine whitepapers were uploaded to the website, bringing in more than 450 marketing leads via

A.K Schultz, Swisslog’s Vice President of E-Commerce/Retail WDS Americas and regular blog contributor, also received a Bronze Award in the Best Article category, for his article ‘Interoperability: what is it and why should you care’.

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Elf To Shelf

Team Beno is delighted to have played a small part in the creation of the 2016 Swisslog Christmas video. John Lewis better watch out…

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Swisslog Wins €150m Contracts

Swisslog Warehouse & Distribution Solutions (WDS), a leading automation expert for robot-based and data driven intralogistic solutions, has been selected to automate a new distribution center for tire manufacturer Michelin in North America. As well as this, Swisslog has been awarded an additional large-scale contract from an Asian corporation. With Swisslog solutions supporting the companies in their future business growth, the order value of the two projects amounts to around 150 million euro in total.

Michelin North America, Inc., a division of the Michelin Group and global leader for innovation in tires, will see its new distribution center supplying passenger and truck tires throughout North America, allowing the company to meet its ambitions for responsible logistics. Swisslog has been engaged to automate the warehouse operation including receiving, tire selection and sequencing, shipping, Warehouse Management Software and controls software. The project is expected to be fully operational in 2019.

“Our expert warehouse automation design team was able to provide an exceptional solution to help Michelin achieve unparalleled customer service with low operating cost. This is another example of how Swisslog develops and delivers solutions that create outstanding customer value”, commented Dr. Christian Baur, Chief Operating Officer of the Swisslog Group and CEO of the WDS Division. “The United States is a very important and rapidly growing focus market for Swisslog,” added Baur.

According to WDS Americas President, Markus Schmidt, “The Michelin contract confirms Swisslog’s strategic focus on the automotive industry as one of our most important market segments. It underscores our expertise in designing, developing and delivering automated intralogistics solutions for the automotive industry and we are privileged to have won this significant opportunity to help Michelin achieve its strategic business objectives in the American market.”

A major Asian corporation has also selected Swisslog Warehouse & Distribution Solutions to install fully automated warehousing systems for pallets at its facility.

“This is an exciting time for the business,” continues Dr. Christian Baur. “These major milestones in our business growth show that leading players recognize Swisslog as an innovative provider of best-in-class warehouse automation solutions, and they are willing to step into the future with Swisslog’s robot-based and data-driven intralogistics solutions.”

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Ship-from-store: Opportunity or obstacle?

Should physical retailers utilise their store network as mini distribution centres as they seek to compete with the success of e-commerce players? To help you form your own opinion, here are the advantages and disadvantages of the ship-from-store technique, which has become a popular method with Australian retailers.

With e-commerce leading the way in the retail sector, high street retailers are faced with the challenge of finding new ways to attract customers to an in-store experience. One of the many ways retailers are fighting back against pure-online retailers is by leveraging their store network. Equipped with more than just warehouses, physical retailers have the opportunity to use their stores to assist in the delivery of goods to their customers.

An approach that is now firmly entrenched in the shoppers’ psyche is click-and-collect; customers buy products online before collecting from a local store, which increases in-store traffic and allows for cross-selling opportunities. But some retailers such as in Australia have the infrastructure to offer both a click-and-collect service and a ship-from-store method for online orders, allowing them to make the most out of their store network and take the pressure off distribution centres.

There are important arguments for and against this tactic which should be taken into account before making the decision to use your stores as mini DCs.

The advantages of the ship-from-store concept

Shorter delivery times

Today’s e-commerce retailers are scrambling towards the same goal for their online orders – making their delivery times as short as possible. With some pure-play e-commerce retailers are now introducing substantially reduced delivery times down to 1-2 days like Catch-of-the-Day by introducing automation [source: here], high street retailers have been forced to raise their game in order to stay competitive in the retail market.

This is especially important in Australia, where its huge land mass means deliveries have further to travel than other countries.

2.       Seamless omni-channel experience

Shipping from your own stores, instead of a distribution centre, gives the customers a more streamlined omni-channel experience, with the ability of switching the method of delivery on the order after it has been made.

Many people use the click-and-collect option due to its convenience when we have another reason to visit the location of the store, but if the customer’s plans change, collecting from store can become an inconvenience. If the store utilises the ship-from-store method, customers could have the option to amend their order and request delivery instead.

3.       Reduced logistics cost

Many online retailers have put themselves out of pocket by only charging a minimal amount, if anything, for delivery and ultimately failing to provide a good service. If physical retailers choose to deliver their online orders from stores, logistics costs can be reduced due to each store only serving customers in nearby locations.

Disadvantages of the ship-from-store concept

1.       Store staff are distracted from selling

If a ship-from-store concept is adopted, employees working in stores have less time to take on their sales responsibilities, thanks to extra tasks such as inventory handling, packing and shipping.

Putting extra pressure on sales staff brings the possibility of jeopardizing in-store customer service and as a result extra costs may be incurred to ensure there is enough staff on the shop-floor tending to in-store customers’ needs.

2.       Retail store space is expensive

Using your store network as distribution centres could be costly with expensive rental space sacrificed for stocking products rather than displaying them.

Retail space allocated to ship-from-store could also cost 5 to 10 times as much ($50 to $100) as the $10 a square foot or less for fulfilment centre space in non-prime locations. [source: here]

3.       Limited SKU available

Some stores may only have a certain range of products available, hence some of their online shoppers may need to accept to exchange for similar products or not buying what they wanted.

In order to avoid out-of-stock and a seamless customer experience, many retailers are choosing to select a hub-store option for their online orders.

Hub-stores: the compromise
The hub-store concept is one that provides a specific store to fulfil online orders, but is still open to the public unlike distribution centres. The hub-store would stock certain quantities of most, if not all SKUs and can be used to replenish normal stores. Using this approach as opposed to utilising all stores for fulfilling online orders can alleviate omni-channel pressures on the store and the DC.

This method has the added benefit of most SKUs being available to buy at one time, rather than a percentage of stock being in a store making online shoppers unhappy.

The verdict
While click-and-collect and ship-from-store initiatives are a means for retailers to expand their omni-channel services using their existing store network, it’s something the pure e-commerce players cannot replicate easily. Similarly, e-commerce retailers are opting for smaller urban warehouses close to city centres to allow for faster delivery to their customers.

With the introduction of hub-stores for omni-channel retailers, a store that is considered ‘optimal’ is selected to handle all online orders to provide consistent customer service.

Regardless of the chosen distribution channel, the availability of SKU for retail and online operations, including real-time inventory management systems, remains the key to excellent customer service.

If omni-channel retailers chose to fulfil their online orders from a hub-store, and e-commerce players improved their delivery times by opening smaller urban warehouses, there would still be a need for a large central distribution centre to replenish these units. These central distribution centres would undoubtedly benefit from the use of warehouse automation to operate swiftly and accurately enough to meet new demand.

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The Long & The Short Of It

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.

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SHD Website

Two happy clients make it to the top of the SHD website…

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The Big Future of Big Data

The amount of data generated by our tech-savvy world has exploded in recent years. Digital video (300 hours of which are uploaded to YouTube every minute), audio (in 2013, more than 4.5 billion hours of music were streamed via Spotify) and photographic data (over 670 million public photos were uploaded to Flickr in 2014) is now easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone, stored automatically in a cloud platform at the touch of a button.

In 2010, Google CEO, Eric Schmidt suggested the amount of data created every two days is about the same as was made “from the dawn of man to 2003” and in data storage terms, 2010 was a long time ago.

Since then, the technology has advanced even further to allow ever greater amounts of digital storage, with helium filled hard disk drives now available with 10TB capacity, enough for 170,000 hours of music or 3.2 million high resolution images. Whilst ‘user generated content’ occupies the thoughts of Google, Facebook and Twitter, others have questioned how best to use the information gathered and whether building an advanced analytics capability to take advantage of the data is really worth the investment.

A 2014 study by management consulting firm Bain & Company found that early adopters of Big Data analytics have gained a significant lead over the rest of the corporate world. Examining more than 400 large companies, they found that those with the most advanced analytics capabilities outperform competitors by wide margins. According to the study, those leaders are five times as likely to make decisions faster than market peers and three times as likely to execute decisions as intended.

Making use of that vital business data however, remains elusive for many. Finding ways to make use of the phenomenal amount of data at our fingertips is now the Holy Grail for many enterprises. The more we can find relationships and understand our systems, the more we are able to find and understand patterns. We can then use this learning to find optimizations and improvements, that even a few years ago, were considered unknowable.

The Five Day Forecast

Take the weather. Not so long ago, weather forecasts were considered extremely unreliable. Today, weather services have access to enormous volumes of data and statistical models that allow them to produce much more accurate forecasts, even five days ahead.

Netflix uses data models to allocate its own resources and adjust pricing. Supermarkets use loyalty data to predict shopping patterns – even predicting a pregnancy in one famous case.

Such big data solution approaches can now be successfully applied to warehouse and distribution logistics and their supply chain concepts. State-of-the-art logistics systems, with their sensors and actuators, as well as their warehouse management and control systems, produce several megabytes of historical data every day, just like weather stations.

By using Big Data, for example, we can ensure our e-commerce systems offer extremely high availability during extremely high demand, our prior knowledge and understanding of the behaviour of the system and machines are critical to achieve this.

Predicting The Future

Swisslog’s Condition Monitoring service already identifies system bottlenecks from which potential optimization measures can be derived. Not only is it possible to continuously monitor the condition of all parts and components of a logistics system, but immediate notification can be made when a potentially critical condition is developing.

The ability to predict errors, long before they actually occur, is the next step that will soon be implemented. Since not all components of an intralogistics system are subject to the same stresses, it will also be possible to detect and replace at-risk components early on. The ultimate goal being, to create a data-based life cycle management system for products that gives a complete picture of the future of any automation system.

So today, there’s no longer an excuse, thanks to advanced storage capacities, efficient software and intelligent system designs, not to use data, however big, to the benefit of your intralogistics operation.

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Swisslog Launch SmartLIFT At ProMat 2015

Leading automation specialists, Swisslog, will launch a new system for the monitoring and tracking of materials handling equipment at the ProMat 2015 exhibition.

SmartLIFT is a Real Time Location System (RTLS) that guides, monitors and tracks every movement of a fork truck vehicle within a facility. Along with live inch-accurate visibility of all vehicles, operators and inventory movements, SmartLIFT provides equipment monitoring and fleet management tools to track vehicle usage.

“We are excited to be unveiling our latest product at ProMat,” says Swisslog director of business development & marketing, Bill Leber. “Data plays a key role in our business, and using SmartLIFT is one of the ways in which businesses can increase their knowledge regarding their fleet utilisation and operator efficiency.”

The launch is being timed to co-incide with a seminar on Big Data, sponsored by Swisslog and hosted by VP of Customer Support, AK Schultz and Program Manager, Sahil Patel.

Says Schultz: “Big Data is an incredible area of development. We have the means to collect and synthesize data which opens the door to predictive modelling. The more we can find relationships and understand our systems, the more we will be able to understand patterns. We can then use this learning to find optimizations and improvements, today which are unknowable.”

In addition to the latest thinking in e-commerce, solutions for cold storage environments and wireless case picking, the company will also showcase its expertise in software and integrated system design.

Swisslog is rightly proud of its successes to date, particularly in the food storage, retail and pharmaceutical industries. A number of recent projects and installations have broken new ground in the US as well as enabled efficiencies in existing tote and goods-to-man handling systems.

But Swisslog not only has an excellent range of solutions for materials handling requirements, it also has considerable expertise in the planning and implementation of entire distribution centres including architecture and construction aspects, all aimed at ensuring the complete facility is perfectly aligned and optimally utilized.

“At Swisslog we have a fairly straightforward approach to what can be seen as a complex issue,” concludes Schultz. “We eliminate risk and inefficiencies for customers when delivering new or adapted automated warehouse solutions, but it takes the type of face-to-face opportunities that shows like ProMat offers, to really demonstrate this in more definitive terms.”

Other seminars presented by Swisslog during the show will cover the impact of automation on warehousing; improvements to safety with AGVs and the latest automated storage and retrieval systems.

ProMat 2015, held March 23-26, 2015 at Chicago’s McCormick Place South, is the largest expo for manufacturing and supply chain professionals in North America, and provides attendees access to the latest material handling and logistics equipment and technologies.

More info: Introduction to SmartLIFT

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Gone In A Flash

A form of extreme discounting, flash sales originated in France and are now spreading around the world. The phenomenon tells us a lot about what brands do to manage their stock, whilst keeping their brand value high and maximise income.

In 2001, Ilan Benhaïm co-founded (‘Private Sale’) with the idea of providing brands with a new way of selling their overstock. The site soon took off, creating quick temporary sales for top brands.
In the retail environment it is common practice to sell 40% of what you produce at full price and 50% during a promotion period. The last 10% was then disposed of. Now it goes to the flash sale. The overstock, which can sometimes reach 15%, is necessary in order to produce enough to fulfil orders without incurring excessive logistics costs for multiple shipments.

“There was a major shift at the end of the 80s,” says Ilan. “Before, brands would have had a factory locally, so orders and the manufacturing of products was a lot quicker. Now everything is produced in Asia so it can take six to eight weeks for delivery of the product.”

“Companies have to structurally order more than they plan to sell, they overstock. Realistically speaking there will be five to 10 percent of product leftover in the warehouse that has not sold. If brands don’t sell these products, then the next year they are losing money.”
Crucially, the flash sale ‘members club’ hides price points, promotions and selling history behind passwords, meaning brands can continue trading at their premium levels without fear of being undercut by their own products.

The flash sale sites also believe it is essential to keep brands locked away from the company’s own regular e-commerce websites, otherwise visitors will never pay full price: “it is not the brands job to sell at discounted price”, they say. This happily also gives the flash sale sites the extra ‘width’ that they believe consumers want and the opportunity to offer vast numbers of items.

“We’ve collected together a portfolio of more than 2,500 designer brands,” says Vente-Privee’s website, “to give heart-fluttering discounts of up to 70%. We love fashion and adore anything that’s stylish: from homeware to sports equipment, cars to holidays. C’est fabuleux!”

Flash sale companies don’t physically own the inventory. They send out emails to their members on behalf of the brand, who receive it and decide whether to make a purchase. The flash sale site then goes back to the brand and places the order, the brand delivers the stock to one of their distribution centres and then dispatch to whichever place or country.

“90% of products the flash sale companies do not buy, “ sales Ilan “It could be from an LA warehouse, Florida, or the UK. Hence there is a long window for delivery.”

Typically, only 8% of visitors make a purchase, but the numbers are vast, and account for amazing success of Vente-Privee as well as it’s emulators, (bought by Harrods mogul Mohamed Al Fayed), (co-founded by ASOS founder Quentin Griffiths) and the sister site of designer website,

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More than milk

When UK supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, asked Twitter followers this simple statement, it summed up one of the key assets of retail stores – serendipity.

The happy, ‘accidental’ purchase. It is a truism to say that stores want you to buy more than what you just came in for, as anyone who’s faced a battle of wills over toys or confectionery at the checkout can testify.

Online retailers have aimed to replicate this phenomenon with the ‘other customers also liked’ feature and by personalising our browsing experience, relying on excellent data mining to impress the casual shopper.

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Neon sign of things to come

Our mates at Swisslog have sold hundreds of semi-autonomous robots that wizz about in warehouses to get your delivery to you in double-quick time.

Here’s what their cool dude / Innovation Manager, Mike Hattrick thinks is next for us mere humans…

The latest marketing tactics, capturing our attention when we are on the move, may reveal a little more about the future of retail. An award-winning campaign highlights the trend that sees the convergence of innovative media and shopper-marketing ideas, in the process, solving a real business problem for the client.

Travelling through Gothenburg Landvetter airport a sign in the baggage hall grabbed my attention. It had appealing pictures with a tagline that translates as “come home to a fresh food delivery!” giving the tantalizing prospect that tired or busy travellers can simply scan the 2D barcodes beneath each product with their smartphone and have it delivered, trouble free, to their home. In fact they could order while waiting for their outbound flight knowing the order would already be delivered when they got home.

A_sign_of_things_to_come_Image_1This is not an entirely new idea of course. In 2012, a photograph was published of a young man in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea. He appeared to be travelling from work, and was choosing his shopping for home delivery, again using a smartphone, this time on the subway platform. The wall was an LCD screen which allowed the retailer to vary the products on display with the click of a mouse – different products for morning and evening travellers.

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With around 1.7 billion social network users in the world, SOCIAL MEDIA is one of the most popular ways for people to share their opinions. could this be the future of customer service?

Although social networking has only taken off in the last 10 years, more and more businesses are using it as a platform to offer customer service in new and different ways.

Social media makes it much easier to complain, and not only complain directly to a business, but to broadcast the complaint publicly. More and more businesses today are taking this opportunity and are using social networking as a platform for offering customer service in a different way.

The search functions of Facebook and Twitter, combined with the use of hashtags, make it easier than ever for people to “tag” and direct their complaint to the company while allowing everyone else to see it.

However, these functions also allow companies to monitor what has been said and respond quickly and publicly. This is where social media can be used advantageously for customer service, underscoring that companies are interested in the complaint and are looking to make the customer happy.

The leading exponents can turn a complaint and bad word-of-mouth into something positive, showing the company is listening to the customer and, in trying to help customers, it can work wonders for the reputation of the business. A good example of social media customer service is what airline JetBlue provides on Twitter.

An unhappy JetBlue customer, Cassidy Quinn, took to Twitter to complain about her flight, tweeting: “Dear @JetBlue, next time can you fix the plane before we all get on it?! Fingers crossed I do not miss my next connecting flight…”

JetBlue replied quickly, offering a sincere apology and confirming that the flight would be on its way very shortly. Not only was JetBlue efficient and reassuring in its response, it turned Cassidy’s complaint into a positive by way of good customer service. She later thanked JetBlue, tweeting: “@JetBlue Thanks for the super quick response! Luckily I made my connecting flight! #happy #phew”

Social media customer service may be more common, but that doesn’t mean that every company is doing it well. Many provide worse customer service via social media.

British Airways’ poor customer service was broadcast to thousands of people on Twitter when, annoyed by BA’s failure to locate his father’s lost baggage, Hassan Syed paid for his tweet rebuking BA to be promoted on its public newsfeed. Hassan tweeted: “Don’t fly @British_Airways their customer service is horrendous.”

British Airways not only then failed to reply for 8 hours, but when they did eventually respond, it was of no help to the customer at all: The airline blamed “Twitter opening hours” for the late reply. A furious Hassan replied with a witty tweet, criticizing British Airways further: “@British_Airways how does a billion dollar corp only have a 9-5 social media support for a business that operates 24/7? DM me yourselves.”

The tweets went viral, with around 76 000 people seeing Hassan’s tweet and hundreds re-tweeting and favoriting them, publically shaming British Airways’ customer service.

The best customer service is not all about complaints. By searching social media platforms, businesses can find other generic and subtle comments that may relate to them. This gives them an opportunity to create conversations directly with customers.

It may be that someone is commenting on needing smaller sizes to be stocked in a certain product, allowing the business to create a conversation with them and ensure them that they will look into the matter.

Having conversations with customers, responding to complaints and generally answering customers queries highlights how social media can be utilized as a platform for good customer service and is a great way to grow as a business and actually deliver what people want to see.

Engage with the Swisslog Inspiration team on Twitter via @swisslogInspire.

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Congrats Swisslog!

We’re delighted to have played a modest part in the arrival of this UKWA innovation gong for our client, Swisslog UK….

We’re liking those magazines too!

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And you thought picking what you wanted was hard…

Outside the e-commerce industry, most would barely know or recognize the challenge of  consolidating orders placed on modern retail businesses.

In a facility that features discrete order picking (a shopping cart principle where one pick run equals one order), the consolidation of the order happens by itself. Likewise, an automated goods to person picking system can sequence the correct picking as it happens.

But in e-commerce facilities that fulfil orders in every thinkable category, such as the likes of Amazon, Otto, and Walmart, even an automated solution has to be broken up into manageable modules due to sheer size.

Find out more about two possible ways companies deal with the issue in this fascinating Swisslog blog


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Say ‘Cheese’ Santa

Our mates at Swisslog have come up with a Santa themed competition that’s bound to hit the festive mark….


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Natural Selection

Few high-bay facilities are as impressive as the new distribution center operated by Alnatura Produktions- und Handels GmbH in Lorsch, Germany.

It rises 17.5 meters into the sky and, this is the most extraordinary part, it is made entirely of wood.

The high-capacity high-bay warehouse is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world, Alnatura points out with some pride, and an external façade that is also made of wood will soon be added to the ecological concept. The goal of the construction project is to build a cutting-edge extension onto an existing organic food distribution center.

“What’s extraordinary is that the project is in keeping with Alnatura’s principles, which are based on systematic sustainability and environmental protection,” comments Dr. Volker Jungbluth, Managing Director of Swisslog Germany. “The organic food retailer can still rely on modern technology,” he adds, “since the warehouse will soon be automated.”

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Fossil Fuel

joseph otterFesco, the logistics arm of fashion brand fossil, is tasked with developing maximum efficiency in a rapidly changing industry. Managing director, Josef Otter, explains how Swisslog helps them to remain a consumer favourite.

How does Swisslog help your business?

With a wealth of new ideas, Fossil is opening up new business segments in the market as well as experiencing unusually strong growth in the traditional watch market. Logistics is therefore constantly undergoing a process of change and optimization. Thanks to many years of collaboration, Swisslog understands our business and can support us with innovative ideas to expand our supply chain.

What impressed you about Swisslog’s proposal?

The shuttle warehouse gives us a number of advantages, including scalability, reliability, faster order processing times and compact storage. The shuttle from Swisslog is a balanced compromise between system weight, transport weight and size, so it is excellent for our purposes.

How important are online sales versus brick-and-mortar sales in your business?

Without a doubt, the rapid changes in our society have had an impact on consumer buying behavior. Convenient online purchases that save a trip into town will continue to gain greater market share. Social media tools contribute more and more to brand building and give customers 24/7/365 access to the merchant. Fossil’s younger consumer segment expects professional offerings, including excellent logistics. Over the next few years we will see an even greater shift to this sales channel, and Fossil is very well prepared.

What were the key objectives or main challenges in your logistics operation?

Our logistics center ships to approx. 30,000 individual retailers throughout Europe as well as to partners in the entire EMEA region. Like all other lifestyle brands, we are witnessing a trend toward smaller order quantities that customers want in a shorter time frame. In recent years, our company has seen very strong growth in sales through our own Fossil stores and our website. In addition, we have optimized our partnerships with retail chains and implemented win-win solutions (stronger IT communication and cross-docking in the central customer warehouse). Even though the growth in these business segments is exciting, collaboration with retailers will remain extremely important over the long term.

Were you already a user of automation systems or did you need convincing?

No. Together with Swisslog we installed a Pick-by-Light system in the middle of the last decade. This very quickly proved itself in day-to-day operations and we received very positive feedback from our employees. Since 2008 Fossil has been working at varying levels of intensity with Swisslog on the benefits of using a shuttle system. Unfortunately, the global financial crisis delayed the decision to invest somewhat, but it is clear this project will be another milestone in expanding our intralogistics.

What are your goals for the business in the next 3 to 5 years? Forecasts are harder to make than ever in this economic climate, but Fossil is a strong brand. Thanks to the the number of fashion brands in its portfolio, Fossil has many opportunities to expand its business. We expect to, and will continue to, grow in the double-digit range.

How do you see your future operations changing in future?

Customer orientation, speed, and precision combined with inventory and cost optimization are the logistical challenges we will be facing more than ever over the coming years. That is where our focus will be. The possibilities presented by technology are virtually limitless, so using good IT solutions even more intensively than in the past will be absolutely essential for top-notch logistics. To keep on top of market developments and assess changes accurately, on-going co-operation with a global partner involved in many other business segments is extremely helpful.

Do you see any challenges within the e-commerce business?

We expect sales through this channel will continue to increase; integration through social networks and other media (e.g. television) will continue to grow. That will boost impulse buying over the web even more. Availability and speed of delivery will remain extremely important purchasing criteria. Services such as personalized orders, custom packaging, etc. will likewise continue to expand.

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China Shopping

China has long been seen as the world’s leading manufacturing base, but how well is it embracing e-commerce?

The latest figures reveal some interesting trends. A report in China Logistics Equipment magazine listed four key points:

1. Booming Transactions: Transactions volume in 2012 reached 9.5 trillion RMB (over 1 billion Euro) and is expected to be 27.5 trillion RMB in 2015. It is thought the annual increase over the next 5 years will be around 35%.

2. Online purchases soar: In 2012, the total number of Chinese online purchases reached 280 million. Online shopping transaction volume (B2C and C2C) reached 1.15 trillion RMB in 2012.

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Swisslog secures major TJ Morris order

Redditch, 12 August 2013 – Swisslog has been awarded a major order by TJ Morris, trading as Home Bargains, one of the United Kingdom’s fastest growing discount retailers. Swisslog will act as general contractor for the materials handling elements of a new distribution center.

With this order Swisslog strengthens its position as a leading provider of automated intralogistics solutions for the retail industry.