UK e-commerce sales are set to exceed £60 billion for the first time in 2015[1], driven by an improving economy, growing usage of mobile devices for shopping and wider delivery options. UK consumers now buy more online than consumers anywhere else in the world[2], and as their spending ramps pre-Christmas, online retail is forecast to reach 17% of retail sales[3]. This is good news for retailers, but while the holiday season is their boom time, it is also creates challenges for packing and distribution centres.

What are the main challenges affecting you?

Many distribution centres today have a core of permanently employed staff and make up any shortfall at peak times by hiring casual workers. Indeed, a quick glance at headlines shows that Amazon[4], Argos[5], Debenhams and Royal Mail[6] are all recruiting thousands of temporary workers ahead of Christmas. However, with precisely calculated margins based on a set wage cost per item and daily throughput targets, the impact can be huge if not enough people can be recruited to make up the labour shortfall. For distribution centres in areas where competition for labour is high, staff-shortages are an increasing inevitability that reduces productivity and drives down profitability.

What can you do to improve your packaging process?

The solution may seem obvious, but maximising what can be delivered in each hour worked is more complex than asking people to work faster. Instead, by stepping back to reconsider your overall packaging and distribution processes you can identify streamlining steps that enable more efficient work.

Imagine that you run a packing operation for the online arm of a high-street retailer. You permanently employ staff to cover average demand levels, but have to recruit supplementary casual staff to meet increased demand during the holiday season and your annual sale. Then you introduce a self-erecting carton that reduces the amount of time employees spend building each box and enables them to pack the same number of items in half the time. The carton costs a little more than the ones you usually use, but the increased efficiency of each employee’s throughput more than offsets this. As a result, you reduce the overall costs of your packaging and increase output. In addition, because your permanent staff are now able to work faster, you are now able to offer extra shifts to them at peak times before sourcing casual staff.

This may be a far more simplistic scenario than the one you face this holiday season, but if your solution stems from the same holistic approach, your challenge needn’t become a crisis.

Antalis Packaging is experienced in creating solutions to help clients optimise their packaging process, making it more flexible to deal with peaks in demand. And at the same time reducing cost and increasing output.

[1] eMarketer. 30 April 2015. Mobile Purchases to Account for a Third of UK Retail Ecommerce Sales.

[2] eMarketer. 30 April 2015. Mobile Purchases to Account for a Third of UK Retail Ecommerce Sales.

[3] Bing. 2015. 2015 Bing Ads holiday insights and planning strategies for agencies.

[4] Post & Parcel. 12 October 2015. Amazon UK hiring 19,000 for Christmas period.

[5] International Business Times. 8 October 2015. Amazon UK joins Christmas retail recruitment rush with 19,000 festive jobs.

[6] Recruiter. 2 October 2015. Royal Mail and Debenhams reveal Christmas recruitment drives.