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Can you deliver on online growth?

Just the other week I had the chance to visit Marks & Spencer’s whopping new 900,000 sq ft distribution centre in Castle Donington, which is due to open in early 2013.

Walking around the expansive site perhaps the most striking feature – aside from it boasting the latest in warehousing technology – was the amount of space left unused. This is because as ever M&S is ahead of the curve and planning for tomorrow, ensuring that the site will cope with the inevitable increase in online sales.

The site will provide 1,000 new jobs – some of which will be for people with disabilities and health conditions through its new Plan A employability scheme Marks & Start Logistics – and will be the UK’s largest dedicated ecommerce warehouse distributing  two million clothing and home products a week direct to customer homes and M&S stores across the country.

The 25m high site is fully mechanised and features some of the latest in warehousing technology including automated storage and retrieval systems, and sophisticated warehouse management systems guaranteeing delivery accuracy.

And accuracy is after all essential, especially when considering the £851m per annum that etail association Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) estimates retailers lose as a result of failed ‘1st time, on-time’ deliveries.

This is all part of M&S’s plan replace its network of 110 smaller distribution centres located up and down the country with four larger ones, thus streamlining deliveries and reducing costs. Darrell Stein, director of IT and logistics at M&S, says that Castle Donington “is a key part of M&S’ strategy for the future”, adding that it will help the retailer to deliver on its goal of being a leading multi-channel retailer by 2015.

With the growth in online looking set to continue it begs the question – are you prepared for the growth, and how will your DC and supply chain handle ever-increasing volumes of orders? Only time will tell, but it will be the forward planners, the M&S’s of this world, that will be ready and waiting.

Of course this blog won’t help you appreciate the sheer scale of Castle Donington. But rest assured, M&S reliably informs us that it could hold 2,392 billion Percy Pigs. Just in case you wondered.

James Knowles, features writer

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