Aug 10, 2020
Warehouses in spotlight as Australian shoppers move online
For many retailers and manufacturers, the warehouse environment has been thrown into the spotlight, becoming the supply chain engine room during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current crisis has seen the importance of the warehouse’s function increase dramatically in an unprecedented short space of time. Warehouse staff are classified as “essential workers” as online orders for direct delivery, in many instances, replace retail outlets that may have closed during restrictions – some due to mandatory shutdowns and others strategically to manage costs.
Today, many warehouses are busier than ever before, and they play a pivotal role in ensuring people can access food, pharmaceuticals, essential household goods and a range of other items safely. So, just how has the warehouse environment changed, and what new considerations does this pose for employers?
Rise in online sales
The current pandemic has seen online retail sales grow exponentially, with many businesses recording even greater numbers of sales than when their retail stores were open. This demonstrates how Australian shopping habits have changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic.
While foot traffic in shopping malls and strips was down by 93.6 percent in April, compared to the same time last year, Australia Post recorded an 80 percent increase in online shopping sales. The peak was around Easter, making it the biggest online shopping weekend for Australia on record, even overtaking Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
This means that even though many brick-and-mortar stores are closed or have reduced hours, warehouses have been working in overtime to ensure the speedy preparation and delivery of goods to consumers. With different states in different stages of restrictions, this may change again.
Dramatic increase in hiring
Such a huge increase in warehouse activity has seen the need for more warehouse employees, therefore has resulted in increased recruitment activity. For example Amazon has reportedly brought on thousands more staff, including hundreds of Australians to meet demands. In another instance, Australian company Kogan has reportedly seen sales rise by 95 percent to more than $94 million in June, and rather than cutting staff has continued to hire throughout the crisis.
This new influx of warehouse operatives will make it imperative for employers to have well laid-out onboarding structures and OHS training in place, to ensure newcomers can become familiar with stock, locations, items and work processes safely and efficiently.
Rethinking temporary competition laws
This isn’t only happening in Australia, but right around the world. On 19 March 2020, the UK Government announced that it would temporarily relax elements of competition law as part of the package of measures to allow supermarkets to work together to feed the nation. This gives companies the freedom to share labour facilities, exchange information on the day-to-day stock and shortages, and coordinate on stores' opening hours.
At this stage, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is highly conscious of the impact COVID-19 is having on Australian businesses, and has adjusted the focus of its regulatory activities accordingly. In a statement the ACC said: “Most businesses are facing severe disruption, particularly small businesses, and the future is uncertain for many. The ACCC will factor these circumstances into its consideration of competition matters in the short term to assist businesses to remain viable in the long term.”
While the ACCC maintains that competition in the long term will be critical to benefit both consumers and the economy, for the time being, retailers have more scope in which to collaborate, pool resources, share distribution depots and even delivery vans. This does not only help Australia’s suppliers meet purchasing demands, but also keeps supply chains resilient and bolsters businesses during this trying time
The future of warehousing
Retailers are investing more into their ecommerce platforms and their warehouses. In some cases, they have even chosen not to renew the lease of their brick-and-mortar stores. This greater reliance on online and dependence on warehousing is predicted to continue well after the pandemic, with consumers likely to be more cautious of crowds and have greater trust in online purchasing.
This may see employers begin to embrace digitisation of the warehouse environment, such as implementing Warehouse Management Systems, predictive maintenance, and API data collection, in order to lower costs, streamline processes and optimise efficiency.
If you are looking for staff to assist in warehousing, packing or distribution, contact Baytech today. For over 30 years Baytech has been recruiting for the industrial and trades sectors, so understand the specific needs of our clients.