Woolworths has implemented a new supply chain management system at a key depot to help it better handle the high number of small-value orders that it typically processes on its woolworths.co.uk website.

The firm has just completed a 16-week project to roll out the supply chain system from Manhattan Associates at its distribution centre in Stoke-on-Trent, which serves online customers and is run by distribution firm Wincanton. The software includes modules for planning and forecasting, inventory optimisation, order lifecycle management, transportation lifecycle management and distribution management.

Woolworths’ decision to overhaul its supply chain management came from a review of the company’s existing distribution network which concluded that optimising the fulfilment capability of its e-commerce operation was dependent on having a specific infrastructure capable of handling large volumes of small orders. Woolworths' website has more than 200,000 products for sale, many of which are small-value items.

"Managing inventory for stores often means fulfilling orders for a small number of items in large quantities. In contrast, an e-commerce operation processes large volumes of orders, each typically consisting of a small number of individual units of either a single or several stock-keeping units,” said Tim Owrid, supply chain director at Woolworths. “It therefore needs a dedicated system to fulfil demand."

Woolworths also decided that to fully exploit the accelerating trend of consumers buying online it needed to deploy the system quickly and with minimal disruption. Owrid said he was pleased that the complete implementation of Manhattan Associates software took 16 weeks, compared with the year-long implementation that some vendors warned Woolworths they might require.

“We just couldn't wait that long to see improvements,” he said, "especially as Christmas is just around the corner.”

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