Surging e-commerce demand could pave the way for UK ports to improve efficiencies and remove bottlenecks in inland logistics through a more regionalised business model.
Container ports around the UK, like many ports globally, are experiencing high levels of cargo throughput due to a pandemic-driven e-commerce boom, and some, such as the Port of Liverpool, have expanded opening times and improved handling capacity to alleviate bottlenecks.
To mitigate, UK ports could see an increase in regional e-fulfilment centres – which provide an all-encompassing service for importers on receiving stock from manufacturers and forwarding goods onto customers – to disperse to the region, one director from Peel Ports argued at the UK Ports Conference.
Stephen Carr, Group Commercial Director at Peel Ports, says Peel Ports, operator of the Port of Liverpool, already operates one warehouse on one of its ports’ estates on a multi-user basis dedicated to e-fulfilment.
“The key thing to remember with e-fulfilment is components are domestically sourced. Not everything through e-fulfilment has to be imported,” Carr said.
Carr noted that this could encourage a more regional approach towards a port of entry for goods, where sorting of the goods is done in a logistics e-fulfilment centre adjacent or on the port complex.
Whereas traditionally the Port of Liverpool could take a container of kettles, Carr explained, the Port could instead take a container of a mix of goods to serve the northwest region on e-fulfilment.
“So I do see that where port-centric logistics can be established there will be an increasing trend for those types of warehousing – and I do see in time as the market matures, the increase of regional ports for regional markets,” Carr said.
Regionalised goods travelling to e-fulfilment centres based in a port complex can provide significant benefits including reducing the ‘last mile’ journey and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from trucking and rail freight transporters.
Carr echoed the global view that digitalising the inland supply chain can bring great opportunities to reduce bottlenecks in transporting goods.
In the shipping sector, digitalised processes, cargo visibility, and real-time data transfer is more matured compared to the inland logistics chain – leaving a “real opportunity” for inland freight.
“For every tonne of freight that arrives by water, it leaves by road, rail, pipe, [and so on],” Carr explained.
“There is a real opportunity to bring in a level of automation and data management between the landside port and the inland markets, [with] huge efficiencies to be captured by understanding data flows.”