The rise of e-commerce is underway and impacting our highstreets. Due to the pandemic, the shift from physical shops towards online spending has accelerated by an average of five years. In 2020, 87% of UK households made purchases online and recent statistics show that 70% now prefer it. Now, E-commerce is booming, and online retail spending in the UK expected to reach £75 billion by 2024.

The race is now on for retailers and third-party logistics (3PL) providers to secure more warehouse space and capture a share in this growing market. Warehouse space has already increase by 73% since Covid-19 restrictions began in March 2019. Businesses need also address speed and accuracy, with the average consumer expecting rapid deliveries of products that are both made to order and easily returned. Therefore, the pressure is on for businesses to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

This is where technology is set to play a major supporting role, bringing fundamental changes to the ways in which warehouses operate. Here, we will explore how technology and energy efficiency will be the driving force behind a successful, smarter, and more sustainable future.

The Internet of things (IoT)

The IoT broadly refers to the connection of devices and sharing data via the internet. This has become an increasingly important driver in boosting automation. Modern warehouses can now be more connected, coordinated, and seamless in their operations, helping them manage escalating demand and run more efficiently.

IoT sensors give an object digital intelligence. This enables devices to communicate with other online systems in real-time and share vital data with warehouse workers. Businesses can use the IoT to connect their equipment, robots, drones, and pallets, while monitoring their inventory and even supervising employees remotely.

Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

A fully optimised WMS can enhance a business’s productivity, boost efficiency, and lower costs by digitising its processes. It also helps avoid common mistakes like slow shipments, poor inventory management, or incorrect product details – all of which can be costly and lead to unhappy customers.

This software assists with an extensive range of key day-to-day operations. These activities might include inventory management, stock replenishment, order picking, labour management, and shipping. It gives an insightful and holistic overview of operations, so informed decisions can be made. For example, an accurate, real-time view of inventory means companies can effectively gauge stock needs and avoid back orders. A WMS can even be used to boost productivity amongst workers, matching them to specific jobs at the right time, and guiding them around the warehouse in the most efficient manner.


As we look to the future, robots are expected to take centre stage. In warehouses, robots can help operations become more efficient and productive whilst reducing errors and improving safety. It’s estimated that there’ll be around 50,000 robotic warehouses by 2025 with over 4 million robot installations. Robots are already used for a whole host of warehouse functions, from picking and packing, to sorting, batching, transporting, inspection, and security. Many large corporations are investing in these emerging technologies. As of 2021, Amazon has around 350,000 mobile drive units.

Mobile robots have been trending over the past couple of years. Among their many talents, they are particularly helpful for moving goods from warehouse shelves to fulfilment zones. They can also be programmed to perform duties traditionally carried out by conveyors, manual forklifts, carts, and towing machines.

Energy efficiency

Warehouses often have high energy requirements, from heating to cooling and lighting. According to the Orlando Utilities Commission,  energy costs typically account for 15% of a warehouse’s operating budget. Therefore, businesses are keen for warehouses to become more energy efficient. As well as reducing costs, this will minimise their impact on the environment and reduce emissions.

Renewable green gas will also be a key part of the future sustainable energy mix. Warehouses will be able to use renewable energy for heating or even to power their forklift truck fleet. Once it’s widely available, warehouses already running on commercial LPG will be able to switch to renewable green gas and become carbon neutral without changing any of their equipment.

Lighting is another big energy consumer for warehouses. Significant savings can be made by upgrading to more efficient LEDs, bringing in more natural light with skylights, and controlling lighting more effectively. For example, a warehouse could have automatic lights-out areas where human workers are absent.

Greener, smarter warehouses

There’s no doubt that warehouses are getting greener, and there are a whole host of other efficiency measures available. Energy management systems; cool roof systems; radiant heaters; high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans;green building materials; and measures to reduce, reuse, and recycle materials can all have a major impact. These green initiatives, married with the introduction of digital intelligence, have increased automation. This emergence of new technology means that we can expect a truly smarter, more sustainable, and more productive warehouse in the future.

Overall, the future of warehousing is technological. Warehouses will be digitally intelligent and able to communicate efficiently. For example, warehouse management systems might organise the daily activities of shipments and so on. Modern forklift trucks have evolved to rely on liquid gas, improving productivity in the workplace. Robots operate alongside warehouse workers to optimise labour and companies are investing in renewable energy sources to lead the way in sustainable manufacturing. How will you modernise warehousing?

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