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INTERVIEW B&Q: “Customers looking for choice, not only products, but when and how purchases are delivered”

Image © B&Q

As part of the DeliveryX Warehousing 2024 report Amélie Gallichan Todd, supply & logistics director at B&Q, tells Katie Searles why the retailer has been utilising its existing store network for fulfilment.

“Customers are looking for choice, not only in the products on offer, but also choice of when and how their purchases are delivered,” notes Gallichan-Todd.

“Having a world-class fulfilment service is key to this, so that our customers can have the products they want, where and when they want them.” 

Amélie Gallichan-Todd, supply & logistics director, B&Q

Q: How has B&Q utilised its physical store network for fulfilment? Our ecommerce strategy has stores at its heart. Pre-pandemic, we offered only a click and collect service from our stores. However, the pandemic helped us to accelerate many initiatives that we already had in our plans. This included the creation of digital hubs in around 50 of our larger stores to enable store to home delivery. Store to home delivery fulfilment options are a great way of utilising the proximity of our stores to their local customers, to help tackle the ‘last mile’ challenges. Moving to store-based picking and fulfilment has been critical in enabling us to serve customers more efficiently. It gives us the ability to flex up or down in response to short-term changes in demand, without being exposed to high fixed costs. 

Over 50 B&Q stores are what we call ‘digihubs’. They’re fulfilling store to home deliveries, both as parcels and by van, enabling us to serve nearly 100% of the UK. These digihubs have been set up based upon their catchment area and their size to ensure they have the depth of range necessary to fulfil orders immediately. 

Alongside the digihub network, our 300 plus stores nationwide continue to offer click and collect, and approximately 60% of our orders are fulfilled in this way. 

Q: Has transforming stores into digital fulfilment centres sped up deliveries for your customers? Has it resulted in cost saving for B&Q, and are there other benefits that you have witnessed? The biggest benefit of our digihubs is that they‘re helping us to be more flexible and agile in reacting to customer demand. They’ve enabled us to expand our home delivery and click and collect options for customers, giving them more access to and availability of the products they’re looking to buy. To bring consistency to the fulfilment service offered via our stores, and to simplify the experience for customers when shopping, we’ve standardised the range available for store to home delivery from our digihubs to more than 22,000 products. 

Over the last two years, we’ve also invested in technology to help us ensure that we can satisfy more demand and deliver more quickly to customers; this includes new order management and carrier management capabilities, and we have more technology investment coming this year. 

Using our store estate to support home delivery and click and collect has given us the ability to better satisfy customer demand from instore and online from the same range and from the same availability. This allows us to turn our stock more quickly and to support more and more demand from a variety of sources in one place. 

Fulfilling more from stores also brings the benefit of greater flexibility in our store deployment, with colleagues flexing between supporting deliveries and serving customers in store. 

Q: What role has technology played in modernising your warehouse operations? Last year we opened two state-of-the-art distribution centres at Rockingham and Blyth. Rockingham supports our stores with providing next day click and collect and ‘digihub’ home delivery services, by holding stock of extended range items not stocked in stores. Customers of smaller stores, for example, benefit by being able to choose to order a product not stocked in their local store and get it for click and collect within 24 hours.

Blyth is our new seasonal distribution and fulfilment centre and our first site delivering replenishment into stores as well as delivering direct to customers. Opening a year ago, at over 430,000 sq ft, it has 54 level access doors, 68 lorry parking spaces and storage for 33k pallets. It’s been built specifically to manage the distribution of our leisure furniture range and can handle delivery of 12k items a week into our stores and 5k to customers’ homes direct. It is helping us to shorten the time from when a customer places their order, for their new garden tables and chairs or BBQs, to when it is delivered, by 40%. 

We’ve also been investing in technology in our existing distribution and fulfilment network, replacing legacy fulfilment warehouse management systems and introducing the same system at our new site in Blyth to ensure consistency throughout our central fulfilment network. This has come on top of the investment we’ve made and continue to make in carrier management, order management and transport management that are helping us to transform our fulfilment network. 

Q: How critical are the right partnerships in managing both store fulfilment and D2C delivery? We have developed a range of partnerships across our fulfilment operations to ensure that we can maximise access, availability, speed and service to our customers on home delivery. At the centre are our 3PL partners who between them help us to operate the vast majority of our own fleet delivery operations from both digihub stores and fulfilment centres. Our partnerships have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, and our parcel delivery partner has become a more important element of our fulfilment operations, helping us to deliver parcel product much more quickly to customers. 

We are also evolving our DSV/D2C routes to customers – onboarding more vendors who can deliver directly to our customers from their networks, to help us extend our offer, accessibility and speed, and we see these type of partnerships as increasingly important to complement our core range and fulfilment offer.

This interview is one of three featured in the DeliveryX Warehousing 2024 report, which is available to pre-register for now.

Pets at Home discuss how its new warehouse fits into the next decade of growth, while Furniturebox can guarantee an 8pm next-day delivery cut off for most the UK because of its facility.

There is also a look at the slow down in demand for warehouse space, an increase in solar potential and how Boots’ staff work alongside robotics.

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