Charlie Walker, a director of the leading third party logistics and online fulfillment specialist, Walker Logistics, says that the UK logistics industry is well prepared to deal with the consequences of another UK-wide lockdown if a ‘second wave’ of the Covid pandemic hits Britain this winter

Well prepared

The Covid crisis impacted on third party logistics companies (3PL) in different ways – depending on the type of goods stored, handled and transported. Clearly those 3PLs whose main clients operate in such sectors as construction or events and hospitality saw their workloads fall dramatically, but online fulfilment specialists found their services more in demand than ever in the first half of this year.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), recently reported that 61.9 per cent of all non-food retail sales in May this year took place online – which was up 31.4 per cent on the same period 12 months previously. Faced with such a hike in volume, those logistics companies who specialise in online fulfilment have had to adapt to ensure that their clients’ growing orders can be processed as quickly, accurately and safely as possible.

For many companies this has meant hiring additional personnel and adding shifts to the working day. At Walker, for example, our warehouse workforce has grown by 20 per cent this year. And companies across the logistics industry are ramping up staff levels at key sites to support online shopping and grocery delivery during the pandemic: Amazon, for instance, has opened 15,000 new full- and part-time positions across the UK, while parcel delivery firm, Hermes, has announced that it is creating more than 10,000 new jobs to help cope with the shift to home shopping.

In many cases, storage facilities have had to be redesigned to effectively combine the storage and picking of consumer online orders with large store replenishment orders in a space efficient way that also complies with social distancing rules and safeguards the health of workers.

Walker Logistics always puts the welfare of its workforce first and stringent measures regarding social distancing have been implemented across our business. These include spacing all workstations, splitting breaks, providing outside seating areas, subsidising lifts to and from work to minimise car sharing and having large stocks of hygienic wipes, gels, masks and gloves available for our staff to use. We have also introduced a track and trace system that allows us to monitors and contact anyone – including permanent and temporary staff as well as visitors – if there is a risk that they have been in contact with somebody who has tested positive for the virus while on our site.

As lockdown eases we’re working closely with our customers in an attempt to accurately forecast future order volumes and the likely split between B-2-C online and B-2-B retail business. With e-commerce transactions set to remain high and orders for replenishment stock to retail outlets coming back on stream, we will need to ensure that we have sufficient staff and throughput-efficient picking systems in place to sustain the consistently high levels of service that our customers expect and demand.

When the Covid crisis first emerged and – as the weeks went by – deepened, the logistics sector demonstrated its resolve and flexibility by meeting the challenges of the home shopping boom and ensuring that – with very few exceptions – the shelves of essential retailers were always restocked. The industry has been rightly praised for its Herculean efforts and it has been pleasing to see a sector that is all too often overlooked, getting the recognition it deserves.

Of course, everyone hopes that the second spike in infections which some health experts are predicting doesn’t materialise, but if it does the public should be reassured that companies operating in the logistics sector are well prepared to deal with the consequences of another UK-wide lockdown this winter if they have to.