Marks & Spencer begins work on new, automated online warehouse

Work begins at Bradford

Marks & Spencer has begun work on a new, automated online warehouse within its Bradford facility, creating the second dedicated e-commerce warehouse for the retailer.

The move is part of M&S’s “Never the Same Again” programme and the re-engineering of its supply chain, including the extension of Bradford to permanently improve online capacity, is an important enabler to its “MS2” division.

Under MS2, M&S is setting itself up to “best digitally serve shoppers in the future”, including reflecting the shift to online shopping driven by the pandemic (M&S online sales grew +34% in the first half of the financial year, with app downloads in 2020 up over 200% and Sparks members now at over 10 million).

The Bradford distribution centre was opened in 2010 and currently delivers both Clothing & Food to M&S stores in partnership with logistics experts XPO Logistics. This new investment is utilising existing vacant space within the centre to create a new online warehouse for M&S.com, supporting the retailer’s Castle Donington online warehouse (which opened in 2012) and in-store pick model

The investment in Bradford follows a successful trial over Christmas where Bradford’s staff manually picked product from the existing automated distribution centre to service online orders – at its peak, the site was dispatching 14,000 items a day. The build is now underway with the aim to be operational for Christmas 2021.

It will start with the target of dispatching 35,000 items a day, looking to increase capacity over time. Bradford will be an online warehouse for boxed products (from bras to belts) and the aim is for it to eventually support around 20% of M&S online orders.

Bradford was selected for this extension due to its location, its excess space and because it is M&S’s most automated distribution centre, with an engineering team already on site. The use of automation is what enabled M&S to adapt to servicing more online orders from Castle Donington during the pandemic. Some 300 jobs will be created as a result of the investment.

Stephen Langford, Director of M&S.com said: “We’re transforming our Clothing business to be more relevant, more often for our 22 million customers – however they choose to shop. Whilst it’s exciting our stores have reopened, growing our online business has never been more important and part of that is a behind the scenes network which means we can serve our customers as efficiently as possible. Building Bradford is a key way we’re setting ourselves up for a more digital future at M&S under the banner of MS2.”

Alongside investing it its physical space with Bradford and equipment (such as the autobaggers at Castle Donington – Percy & Penny), M&S is reengineering the supply chain through greater use of tech, for example achieving operational efficiencies through the application of Microsoft Power BI and improving ways of working through utilising the communications platform Microsoft Teams. In addition to the manual build of Bradford, behind the scenes IT work will be completed to ensure M&S can most efficiently use its “three” warehouses – Donington, Bradford and stores.

Gavin Williams, Managing Director, Supply Chain – UK and Ireland, XPO Logistics, added: “We’re proud to be extending our successful partnership with M&S and look forward to further utilising our e-commerce logistics expertise in Bradford. Automation is essential in today’s supply chain to ensure the flexibility, efficiency and accuracy that e-commerce demands. We’re looking forward to welcoming additional talent into our Bradford team to keep supporting M&S in the UK.”