Warehouse automation facilitates online sales growth for John Lewis

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Recent trading figures from John Lewis have confirmed its position as a highly successful, multichannel retailer. Its results for the year ended 29 January, released on 9 March, showed gross sales up an impressive 11.9% to 3.23 billion and johnlewis.com sales up a staggering 37.9% to just over 538 million.

Automated material handling systems from KNAPP UK at John Lewis's flagship distribution centre at Magna Park, Milton Keynes, have played a significant role in facilitating the growth in the company's online business and with John Lewis now forecasting 1 billion of direct-to-customer sales for the year 2013-14 and the expansion of the johnlewis.com delivery catchment area this year to cover international locations, initially within Europe automation is certain to feature strongly in the company's future distribution strategy.

State-of-the-art distribution centre
The 28 million automated warehouse systems were supplied by KNAPP as part of a 54 million investment in the Magna Park site by John Lewis in 2009. The company's 730,000 sq ft national distribution centre features over 10km of conveyors and over a quarter of a million bin storage locations.

The design of the handling system was complex due to a number of factors the need for flexibility for growth, the required distribution strategy of 'little and often' replenishment and the specific delivery needs of the company's 28 department stores and four John Lewis at home shops. Explains Craig Rollason, Head of Sales & Marketing for KNAPP UK, "A major challenge for KNAPP was the fact that we needed to provide store-friendly deliveries, despite the fact that every John Lewis shop is laid out differently. Within John Lewis, shop layout has always been the preserve of the branch managing director. In addition, the differing distribution needs of the retail shops and johnlewis.com had to be accommodated under one roof." The department stores typically stock more than 350,000 separate lines, while the website stocks over 154,000 products focused on fashion, beauty, homewares, gifts and electrical items.

Due to the warehouse automation systems, goods arrive at the shops shelf-ready, with the majority of packaging removed and recycled, saving each branch time and money. The 'little and often' replenishment strategy minimizes stockholding in its stores and frees up footprint for sales.

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