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W2 Labs optimising dark stores to support changing consumer behaviour

Comment | 01 October 2020

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The events of 2020 have highlighted the importance of supply chains and the logistics professionals that keep them moving. We’ve all been impacted by COVID-19, with the lockdown measures changing the way we live our lives.

The effects of these changes have been profound across the supply chain industry. At the height of the pandemic during March and April, the infrastructure that supports supermarkets and grocery businesses was stretched to new limits, while eCommerce retailers were forced to adapt their ways of working. Shoppers have been moving from the high street to the internet for some time, but the rate of change of the past six months has been unprecedented.

It’s estimated that the UK’s online grocery shopping market will be worth more than £17 billion by the end of 2020 (Kantar) with many consumers unlikely to permanently swap the virtual basket for its physical counterpart.

A direct response to this is the ‘dark store’, or Customer Fulfilment Centre (CFC). Dark stores are not a new concept, but with the market having grown at such a rate, they’re a more viable option for the supermarket chains. Essentially a dark store is a purpose-built warehouse, stocking the full supermarket range, in which logistics professionals pick customer orders and despatch for delivery to customers homes. Particularly where we can deploy automation these sites can be far more efficient than the current in-store picking method adopted by many grocers.

Wincanton has moved into this space, supporting Waitrose to open and operate a dedicated CFC in West London to better serve its customers in this region. This is a first for a UK 3PL (third-party logistics) provider and we’re excited to use the expertise we’ve built up across both grocery and eCommerce supply chains to help the supermarket double its CFC order capacity in London.

The W2 ‘Dark Store’ category

Wincanton sees dark stores as a trend that isn’t going away. Because of this, it’s keen to hear from early stage businesses with technologies that have the potential to revolutionise modern day fulfilment.

"Consumer behaviour has changed drastically in 2020 and we don’t see the trajectory of more shoppers moving online slowing anytime soon. Dark stores are a solution for grocers to better meet the requirements of their customers, and with Wincanton’s expertise in eCommerce supply chains it’s confident about helping its partners grow to take advantage of new opportunities.

"To make the dark store of the future as efficient and effective as possible, we’re looking for innovators with new ideas that can change and improve the processes that underpin a great operation. That may be robotics, automation or planning programmes. If you have ideas, we want to hear from you." Ian Keilty – Chief Operating Officer, Wincanton

From robotic automation and technology that augments the people (‘People’ is another category in W2 Labs 2020) that keep supply chains moving, through to demand forecasting and more efficient process planning to better respond to consumer behaviour, if you have an idea and a vision, Wincanton wants to hear from you.

Read more and join the W2 Labs 2020 programme

How can we help?

Have a supply chain question, need some help, just want a chat? Contact Wincanton today.