Benefiting from challenges in the warehousing world
Warehouse and distribution users, and organisations, have definitely been on a steep learning curve in recent months. From the panic buying of the early days through to the recent exhortations to ‘go out and buy’, warehousing and distribution have borne the brunt of changed buying and delivery habits. But we’ve also learned a lot from COVID-19, which can benefit the warehouse and distribution industries:
Automation has stalled in warehouse and distribution, but will accelerate
While warehouse automation has long been touted as the ‘saviour’ of warehousing, there’s no doubt that installing, and especially retrofitting, warehouse automation is a labour-intensive business that came to a complete halt as soon as Coronavirus restrictions were imposed. This will have a knock-on effect, creating a slowdown in the automation of warehousing, but it’s also going to be an accelerating trend in the future, because if COVID-19 taught us one thing, it taught us that pandemics don’t reduce demand for products, they accelerate it, but that meeting supply is difficult when the business paradigm changes. E-commerce can only grow as a result of COVID-19, and that means more demands for warehouse space and distribution services.
Warehouse creation froze
All non-COVID-19 related construction projects were halted when the crisis began. While many sites are now open again, they can hardly be described as back on track. Contractors are in demand for any number of projects, many were pulled from standard construction to work on NHS our emergency housing projects, and because many of them travel up and down the country for work, it’s difficult for them to get back on track when there is no hotel accommodation or food provision. Delays in the supply of materials are also a problem. The learning here is that while it can be difficult to plan for an unknown future, renting warehouse space can be an excellent short-term solution to change – and not only that, but it’s much easier to redefine your warehousing practices based on need, if you have the capacity to change your warehouse space, and even its location, in a relatively short time frame.
Distribution may become ‘keywork’
Well not officially, we’re never going to see people clapping for their last mile deliverer! However there is an increased understanding that the process of distribution is vital to the rebuilding of an economy and to community cohesion. Local authorities are recognising that warehouse and distribution services are essential to keep the country going. There’s a backlog of non-food merchandise arriving in UK ports, but with little demand yet for distribution (because it’s material intended for retail) warehouses have pretty well become storage centres. There’s increasing evidence that local, and even national, government is developing a new appreciation for the role of warehousing and distribution and that means that the industry is likely to be one of those getting more consideration and support when the UK returns to ‘normal’, whatever that might mean in future. In short, it’s a good time to invest in warehousing.