Retailers innovate to survive – but never more so than now, as the sector was challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic throughout 2020 and into 2021. As a significant supporter of the UK’s Retail Sector in terms of providing the order picking, storage and intralogistics solutions designed to make retail more efficient, BITO applauds the achievements of the retailers the have overcome these challenges and seized opportunities for future growth.
In addition to enforced closure of non-essential shops, pandemic restrictions have resulted in more people working from home and have accelerated the shift from the high street to shopping on the Internet and home delivery. According to the latest ONS (Office for National Statistics) retail sales figures for Great Britain, 2020 saw the retail sector suffer its largest annual fall since records began of 1.9%. However, the amount spent in online retail sales increased by 46.1% when compared with 2019 as a whole. This represents the largest annual increase since 2008.
Retailers have been handling a surge in online order volumes, for broader mixes of SKUs and often with shorter lead times. This places enormous pressure on intralogistics operations to improve order-picking productivity. At BITO we are seeing a particular trend towards lower cost solutions to help improve fulfilment operations and meet the need for flexibility. These might include multi-tier shelving, adapting pallet racking for picking small items, installing live storage flow shelves to improve pick face density, investing in bins and containers for efficient storage and delivery, and adopting technology that allows staff to spend their time more productively picking orders – driverless internal transport to move goods from pick zones to the packaging area is a good example.
The Retail Sector’s response to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and restrictions is inspiring and heroic. We anticipate working on numerous innovative order picking and storage solution designs in the coming year. We find that designing solutions to successfully overcome a specific operational challenge can often be transferred successfully to a broader base, thus driving a sector-wide uplift of service levels.
As the vaccination programme against Covid continues to roll out during 2021, we expect the economic bounce back to carry on. Shoppers will continue to enjoy the convenience of online retail and local stores but we also expect pent up demand will see shoppers returning to the high street as soon as allowed, where they will perhaps see new names and have new retail experiences.
Retailers will need to invest in intralogistics systems that help fulfil orders as efficiently as possible – either to retail stores or direct to consumer. They will seek systems that are efficient, reliable and have the flexibility to adapt easily to changing business circumstances and to meet peaks in demand. At BITO, we have a team of experts with a tremendous amount of experience in providing one stop shop intralogistics solutions for all kinds of retailers – whether it is for small-scale installations or large distribution centre integrations.