Specialist 3PL fulfilment provider Europa Warehouse has reported a 45% increase in total orders picked in December 2023* across its 3PL sites.

Despite this increase, its facilities in Birmingham, Corby and Dartford – which offer over one million combined square feet of dedicated warehouse and logistics space – operated without the usual stress and pressure associated with ‘peak’.

Notwithstanding the current economic challenges, a recent E-commerce Strategic Study 2023, published by the International Wine & Spirit Research (IWSR) suggested that alcohol ecommerce sales will reach $40bn by 2027.

While drinks sales during the 2023 peak season in the UK might be less pronounced in comparison to previous years – when lockdown caused online sales to soar – the increase in order volumes still puts a huge pressure on 3PL services.

Due to Europa’s £70m investment in its logistics operations over recent years, including £11m in shared user automation, this peak period was the most efficient compared to similar times in previous years.

Dionne Redpath, chief operating officer (COO) and Head of Warehouse at Europa Worldwide Group said: “Shopping habits are ever evolving, but we have invested heavily to alleviate the strain on our e-commerce, retail and wholesale customers – particularly those within the drinks sector.

“As well as investing in new equipment and processes and having restructured in recent months we’ve augmented our approach with customer and consumer experience at its heart. Our focus has been to enable customers to meet or exceed their sales targets, allowing them to maximise revenues while ensuring exceptionally high levels of quality and satisfaction.”

To make it easier for customers to scale up and achieve seamless fulfilment, Europa Warehouse identified the importance of implementing strategies to drive innovation in order fulfilment.

“We appreciate that our customers need to cost-effectively scale up and down at pace, while delivering an efficient service for their customers. Our overarching objective is to deliver a peak which doesn’t feel like peak at all. During seasonal high points, e-commerce and retail brands within the drinks sphere face upsetting their own status quo: with the significant upturn in sales activity creating volatility and complexity resulting in what can be an inefficient, often-chaotic order fulfilment process. It’s the time of year businesses are more likely to experience costly mispicks, delays to dispatch and higher than normal return rates.”

Europa Warehouse is the 3PL division of Europa Worldwide Group, and one of only a few operators in the UK offering a shared-user automated picking system. Designed for products like wine bottles, which can be stored in totes, the system is ideal for clients who operate with a large SKU range and a complex, volatile order profile, often requiring operations to dramatically scale up and down within a short period of time.

Dionne explains: “With robust quality control processes to prevent picking errors, a shared-user system can be quickly scaled up or down to meet fluctuating demand. In turn, this allows for accurate financial modelling because of the high level of predictability. For peak planning, this is crucial to ensure a seamless supply chain from start to finish while not blowing budgets.”

Shared-user automation contributed towards Europa’s high pick rates, allowing for regular scaling from 40 to 100,000 picks from one day to the next. The ability to scale in this way within automation is what makes it such a cost-effective solution. Scaling in a similar way in a manual environment is far more complex, requiring significantly more labour at a time of year when labour is at a premium. In the automated environment, those headaches simply don’t exist.

In 2023, Europa’s portfolio of warehouses picked 78.8 million units through its automated and manual fulfilment operations – regularly scaling up to 280,000 individual picks in a 24-hour period. Customers benefiting from Europa’s fulfilment operations include the UK’s leading subscription gin service, Craft Gin Club, and cocktail company, FUNKIN.

Europa Warehouse is part of Europa Worldwide Group, an ambitious independent logistics operator with two other divisions, Europa Road and Europa Air & Sea. The company has been featured in The Sunday Times Top Track 250 for three years. Europa has invested £5m in its innovative market-leading product, Europa Flow, providing a frictionless flow of goods between the EU and the UK post-Brexit. The group employs more than 1,400 people with 29 international sites in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Europe, Hong Kong, China and the UAE. The global operator recently reported a record turnover of £302m for the last 12 months, as of August 2022, and remains on track with its ambitious investment programme.

The combination of Europa’s most recent investment in its systems and automated fulfilment technology and processes allows drinks e-commerce brands to optimise resources, simplify operational models and capitalise on the sales and growth opportunities afforded by the peak season. Click here to view the automation system in action.

 *Figures taken from volume of orders picked in December 2023 (the height of Europa’s peak), compared to October 2023 (the month preceding peak season).