A visit to online retailer wehkamp.nl
Zwolle is a tranquil town in the Netherlands, located about 120 kilometres from the capital city, Amsterdam. Zwolle, with a population around 120,000, is home to the First League Football Club PEC Zwolle, as well as the world’s largest automated logistics centre for online retail. Sander Bolmer, Director of Warehousing & Distribution of Dutch online retailer Wehkamp, takes us on an exclusive tour behind the scenes at their Logistics Service Center (LSC). Thanks to logistical precision, this is where the promises that Wehkamp makes to its customers are made reality.
Mission: Fulfilling its promises to customers
The clean modern lines of the Logistics Service Center nestle into the even landscape and shine brightly in the morning sun. In 2014, the building was erected on a green field with a focus on sustainable design. The entire structure is designed to retain heat in the winter; in the summer, it remains comfortably cool. The roof is completely covered by solar panels – Wehkamp is therefore able to cover 40-50 percent of the building’s power requirements using solar power. “When we have guests here, we always say that this is the most beautiful logistics centre in the Netherlands,” chuckled Sander Bolmer, “but naturally, it’s not about beauty, but the performance of the warehouse. We make a very definite promise to our customers: ‘Order today before 11:59 pm and receive your goods on the next day.’ The purpose of our logistics centre is to fulfil this promise for each and every customer, so it must be high-powered and extremely reliable.”
30 million articles shipped per year
More than 30 million articles are shipped from the warehouse every year. Fashion, household goods, electronics, cosmetics, toys and much more are all included in the range – more than 430,000 various articles in total – from which their 2.7 million customers can fill their online shopping carts in Wehkamp’s lifestyle online-shop.
Our customers don’t know what goes on behind the scenes in our logistics centre. What they expect, however, is that we keep our promises. The extremely high reliability, availability and the high performance of the system ensure that we can keep our promises.
Sander Bolmer, Director Warehousing & Distribution, Wehkamp
From classic mail-order catalogue to online retail
Since its founding in 1952, Wehkamp developed from a classic mail order catalogue business to an online pure player. To equip themselves for the strong growth of the online trade and to fulfil increasing demand, Wehkamp decided to reorganize its logistics for the small product range. At the time, the logistics centre in Dedemsvaart had become too small and renting additional warehouse space proved unsatisfactory. The company therefore decided to erect the new Logistics Service Center in Zwolle with a highly automated logistics solution. Wehkamp’s rapid growth needed efficient support, so the requirements for the new logistics solution included:
- Extreme reliability
- High-performance throughput
- High storage density and cost-efficiency
We were searching for a good partner to work with over the long-term, not for just a supplier. It was important to us to have a partner on our side with whom we could exchange ideas and find new approaches together to fulfil our requirements and reach our goals. KNAPP took our design specifications and worked out a solution with which we were convinced that we would be able to achieve our goals. Another determining factor was that KNAPP already had considerable experience in the retail sector and had already implemented similar solutions.
Sander Bolmer, Director Warehousing & Distribution, Wehkamp
Distribution centre for e-commerce in giant dimensions
With respect to size, the new Logistics Service Center surpasses previous dimensions, comprising about 110,000 m² for online retail. This huge space houses a modern logistics solution: Here, highly automated processes and manual processes mesh harmoniously with each other to provide optimal performance, elegantly implementing classic warehouse processes such as goods-in, storage, picking, packing, dispatch and returns handling.
Das Logistics Service Center in Zwolle in Zahlen:
- 430,000 articles in stock
- 2,000 different brands
- 2.7 million customers
- 30 million items shipped per year
- 556,000 storage locations in the OSR Shuttle™
- 28 Pick-it-Easy work stations
- 12,300 items picked per hour
- Orders ready for dispatch in 30 minutes
The numbers for the Zwolle location are certainly impressive, but it doesn’t stop there. The processes are tailored to wehkamp.nl’s fast-paced business and most of the articles need only be handled once by an employee during order processing.
Rene Wolters, Managing Director, KNAPP Benelux
Behind the scenes at wehkamp.nl
What happens behind the scenes when a customer orders something through the webshop wehkamp.nl? “Much of our range is stored in our automated storage system OSR Shuttle™, which has over 556,000 storage locations,” declared Sander Bolmer. Connected to the shuttle system are 28 ergonomic Pick-it-Easy work stations, which function on the goods-to-person principle. “When a customer submits an order, the OSR Shuttle™ receives a corresponding order from the warehouse control software KiSoft and conveys the right storage container to one of the Pick-it-Easy work stations. At the work stations, the employees manually fill the customer orders. Thanks to the special design of the work stations, 6 orders can be simultaneously processed at each work station. The combination of a fast shuttle system with the ergonomic goods-to-person work stations allows Wehkamp to achieve a picking performance of up to 12,300 items per hour. At the same time, the goods-to-person principle takes the load off the employee, who no longer has to walk long distances through the warehouse to fulfil orders – the right articles are simply presented to them in ideal reach.
Transporting less empty space thanks to intelligent packaging
Once picking is completed, it’s on to the packing lines, where packing is also mostly automated. Orders with value-added services are manually processed and, like small orders, are repacked into envelopes. Afterwards, a special machine shortens the shipping carton height and lids them. This secures the goods in the carton and reduces the transport of empty space. Delivery vehicles are therefore more efficiently loaded, ultimately reducing CO2 emissions. Just 30 minutes after the order is made, the package is ready for shipping. And what if the customer doesn’t like the article, or if it doesn’t fit? Efficient returns handling is also one of the processes in the warehouse – at 129 work stations, employees check the returned goods, repack them and prepare them for storage in the OSR Shuttle™.
Scalable design grows with demand
Because of strong growth in the wehkamp.nl online business, the logistics centre in Zwolle has grown in the past years in parallel with the growing demands. The scalable design of the logistics solution made this possible and, at the end of 2017, the OSR Shuttle™ was expanded by three rack line systems. In the last construction phase, the number of Pick-it-Easy work stations was increased from 24 to 28. “Wehkamp and KNAPP are connected by common values such as innovation. Both companies are driven by the desire to surpass themselves again and again. This results in an interplay of efficiency and reliability on one hand with constant further development on the other,” stated Sander Bolmer on the collaboration. With this, our tour of the largest automated e-commerce warehouse draws to an end.
Thanks for the exciting tour! We look forward to seeing you again.
Further reading recommendations
How logistics can give the gift of time
Time is a precious commodity. Product Manager Bernd Stöger explains how new logistics concepts are helping us to save valuable time.
Preparation for the last mile in online trade
Different structures mean that the “last mile” – in other words, the journey the package takes from the warehouse to the customer – is different for each online retailer.
Watch this video for more insight into Wehkamp’s Logistics Service Center