Clicks, Bricks & Orders: Warehousing gets an e-commerce makeover


Think about the last time you bought something online. If you live in the United States, you most likely visited, selected the exact product you wanted from a range of similar options, added it to your shopping cart and checked out. From there, the product left one of Amazon’s cavernous distribution centers and made it to your front door, perhaps by truck or by air, in only one or two days. Amazon has spent years – and massive amounts of money on warehouse automation and freighter aircraft – developing that process into what it is now.

However, while consumers are falling in love with the e-commerce process, sellers competing with Amazon are scrambling to match the Seattle retail giant’s speed and efficiency, regardless of where their customers do their online shopping. Most sellers lack the time and money to make the initial investment to develop Amazon-level fulfillment systems and delivery standards, and even fewer need the giant warehouses typical of Amazon or traditional big-box retailers like Walmart.

That is where a new breed of third-party-logistics providers comes in.

While some warehouses are situated near major air hubs and expand to meet surging e-commerce demand, others are getting smarter, using analytics side-by-side with smaller, urban distribution centers. This second category of warehouse relies more heavily on road-feeder services and keeping products closer to customers, while also sharing space to keep costs low and get shipments to shoppers as quickly as possible.

“I would say that technology, like every other industry, is driving most of the change in warehousing,” Steve Bullard, vice president of logistics for Pilot Freight Services, told Air Cargo World. “There are only so many ways you can move a box or a mattress or a recliner, and those haven’t changed a lot in the 30 years I’ve been doing this – technology has been the biggest overall change.”

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