M&S to boost online capacity with automated warehouse - Just Style
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M&S to boost online capacity with automated warehouse

By Giacomo Lee 19 Apr 2021

UK-based retailer Marks & Spencer says work has begun to extend its Bradford distribution centre into a second online warehouse for M&S.com, as part of continued efforts to turbocharge online growth.

The re-engineering of M&S’s supply chain, including the extension of Bradford to permanently improve online capacity, is an important enabler to M&S’s MS2 division. Under MS2, M&S is setting itself up to best digitally serve shoppers in the future, including reflecting the shift to online shopping driven by the pandemic.

The Bradford site, which opened in 2010, currently delivers both clothing and food to M&S stores. The new investment is utilising existing vacant space, supporting the retailer’s Castle Donington online warehouse and in-store pick model – a ‘clicks & bricks’ advantage which enabled M&S to respond to local online demand during the pandemic by turning this on and off at different locations.

The investment follows a successful trial over Christmas where colleagues manually picked product from the existing automated distribution centre to service online orders – at its peak, the site was dispatching 14,000 items a day. The build is now underway with the aim to be operational for Christmas 2021. The team will start with the target of dispatching 35,000 items a day, looking to increase capacity over time. Bradford will be an online warehouse for boxed products (from bras to belts) and the aim is for it to eventually support around 20% of M&S online orders.

Stephen Langford, director of M&S.com said: “We’re transforming our clothing business to be more relevant, more often for our 22 million customers – however, they choose to shop. Whilst it’s exciting our stores have reopened, growing our online business has never been more important and part of that is a behind the scenes network which means we can serve our customers as efficiently as possible. Building Bradford is a key way we’re setting ourselves up for a more digital future at M&S under the banner of MS2.”

Whilst what’s being built is an automated system, M&S says the extension to Bradford will create about 300 roles.

Alongside investing in its physical space, M&S is re-engineering the supply chain through greater use of tech, including achieving operational efficiencies through the application of Microsoft Power BI and improving ways of working through utilising the communications platform Microsoft Teams. In addition to the manual build of Bradford, behind the scenes IT work will be completed to ensure M&S can most efficiently use its “three” warehouses – Donington, Bradford and stores.

Last month, the retailer announced the first tranche of guest brands to be sold on its website this spring under the new ‘Brands at M&S’ banner, which is also part of the newly formed MS2 division.