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COUNTERING THE ECOMMERCE LABOUR SHORTAGE? 

Poor labour availability at fulfilment centres has the potential to impact the growth and performance of eCommerce businesses. Could smart packaging technology offer an intelligent solution?

Labour challenges in the warehouse

In today’s eCommerce driven world, businesses are under pressure to be more responsive. Keeping pace with rising online order volumes and more frequent peaks in demand requires highly flexible fulfilment processes capable of responding quickly and efficiently to sudden changes in demand. However, maintaining a profitable, reliable operation, when costs are increasing and labour is becoming more difficult to find, has become a major challenge for eCommerce businesses.

While every facet of the fulfilment process is under scrutiny, labour issues dominate. Not only is labour scarce and increasingly unreliable, in April the National Living Wage is to rise from £8.91 to £9.50 per hour – and to add to cost pressures, National Insurance is set to increase by 1.25p in the pound for both employers and employees. With high employee turnover, rising absenteeism, and repetitive, non-value-adding tasks fuelling staffing frustrations, many businesses are struggling to keep up with changing customer behaviours and surges in demand.

The drive for productivity gains

Although order picking processes are often the first under review when it comes to searching for labour and cost-saving opportunities, more often than not order assembly and packing are the most labour-intensive operations, contributing to higher overall costs. Automating the packaging process can drive huge productivity gains and provide a significant competitive advantage, as businesses can free up precious labour resources for more value-adding tasks, improving overall profitability.

Next to inventory, labour costs are typically the largest expense in any warehouse-operating budget. With the boom in eCommerce, there has been a heightened need for more warehouse staff, exacerbating cost pressures and placing strain on hard-pressed fulfilment operations. And as finding available warehouse space is now tougher following Brexit, with higher rents, getting more packages out the door within a smaller footprint and with minimal labour is critical.

Other factors impacting labour availability include employee benefits, safety protocol concerns, technology performance and pathways for promotion.

Labour shortage for packaging jobs
Labour shortage for packaging jobs

The drive for productivity gains

Although order picking processes are often the first under review when it comes to searching for labour and cost-saving opportunities, more often than not order assembly and packing are the most labour-intensive operations, contributing to higher overall costs. Automating the packaging process can drive huge productivity gains and provide a significant competitive advantage, as businesses can free up precious labour resources for more value-adding tasks, improving overall profitability.

Next to inventory, labour costs are typically the largest expense in any warehouse-operating budget. With the boom in eCommerce, there has been a heightened need for more warehouse staff, exacerbating cost pressures and placing strain on hard-pressed fulfilment operations. And as finding available warehouse space is now tougher following Brexit, with higher rents, getting more packages out the door within a smaller footprint and with minimal labour is critical.

Other factors impacting labour availability include employee benefits, safety protocol concerns, technology performance and pathways for promotion.

Labour issues in the warehouse

Ecommerce Growth

Labour and talent shortages within the supply chain and logistics sector have been an issue for years, however, with the explosive growth of eCommerce this shortage has become a critical concern for the entire industry. The combination of an ageing workforce, difficulties in recruiting and retaining skilled workers, and the huge challenges competing with neighbouring firms for what labour is available make costing and planning peak season activity extremely difficult. In such a buoyant labour market, attendance can be unpredictable, leading to capacity and performance shortfalls and resulting in critical customer impacts that can damage brand reputation.

Other common labour constraints

Labour unavailability

Training and skills costs

Unreliable & inconsistent

Peak labour fluctuations

How effective is your parcel packaging process?


Manual vs automated packaging

Manual packaging operations require businesses to train associates to choose the most appropriate box and to pack the order safely and cost-effectively. Accuracy in determining a good fit depends upon individual decisions, which takes time and can vary enormously. Many issues over packing quality and consistency can arise. Such an approach also requires a range of box sizes, which can lead to stocking issues and, if the box size is not available, then the default action by the packer is normally to use an oversized box with plenty of void-fill. This can be very wasteful.

Similarly, with semi-automated boxing machines, achieving the best fit can fall woefully short of an efficient, cost-effective solution. Oversized boxes waste material, require void-fill and take up more transit space – all of which translates into higher than necessary costs, more CO2 emissions and greater fuel usage.

However, fully automated fit-to-size packaging solutions streamline and optimise order fulfilment by packing contents with variable dimensions into custom, right-sized boxes within seconds. One machine operated by one/two people can perform the work of up to 20 packing stations, boosting capacity, reliability and overall packaging performance.

Labour issues solved with automated packaging
Labour issues solved with automated packaging


Manual vs automated packaging

Manual packaging operations require businesses to train associates to choose the most appropriate box and to pack the order safely and cost-effectively. Accuracy in determining a good fit depends upon individual decisions, which takes time and can vary enormously. Many issues over packing quality and consistency can arise. Such an approach also requires a range of box sizes, which can lead to stocking issues and, if the box size is not available, then the default action by the packer is normally to use an oversized box with plenty of void-fill. This can be very wasteful.

Similarly, with semi-automated boxing machines, achieving the best fit can fall woefully short of an efficient, cost-effective solution. Oversized boxes waste material, require void-fill and take up more transit space – all of which translates into higher than necessary costs, more CO2 emissions and greater fuel usage.

However, fully automated fit-to-size packaging solutions streamline and optimise order fulfilment by packing contents with variable dimensions into custom, right-sized boxes within seconds. One machine operated by one/two people can perform the work of up to 20 packing stations, boosting capacity, reliability and overall packaging performance.

Labour issues in the packaging area

Evaluating the effectiveness of your packaging process in today’s labour market is essential for improving flexibility, reliability and performance – while decreasing costs.

Five key questions for evaluating your packaging process:

  1. Is your packaging process slow, inefficient and costing you money?
  2. Is local labour in short supply?
  3. Is your temporary peak workforce unpredictable?
  4. Are you dissatisfied with the number of orders packed per hour?
  5. Do you struggle with fulfilment during unpredictable peak periods?

If the answer is yes to more than two of these questions, it could well be worth looking at a fit-to-size automated packaging solution.

Five major benefits from fit-to-size automated packaging

Manual packaging labour issues


  1. Lower labour costs

Automated packaging solutions like Sparck Technologies’ CVP systems can significantly reduce labour constraints and costs, especially if it’s difficult to find local staff. With only one or two operators required, it’s possible to replace an average of 8 to 20 packing stations, saving significant labour costs. Overall, this lower requirement for staff not only saves labour costs but also reduces the cost of supervision, recruitment, training and human resources — all while generating increased capacity, higher production volumes and greater accuracy.

2. Navigate peak seasons with ease

Periods of peak stress the whole fulfilment and delivery process and nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the packing area. Qualified help is hard to find when trying to quickly adjust to fluctuations, not to mention a shrinking labour pool. When looking for a peak labour strategy, an automated packaging solution that will scale with growth is an ideal solution. Automation runs 24/7 and doesn’t take a vacation or sick day, minimising labour requirements and providing room to meet peak demands. Sparck Technologies’ automated packaging solutions are built for reliability, with industry-leading uptime rates and service & support that can be counted upon.

Manual packaging labour issues
Lower labour costs with automated packaging

2. Navigate peak seasons with ease

Periods of peak stress the whole fulfilment and delivery process and nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the packing area. Qualified help is hard to find when trying to quickly adjust to fluctuations, not to mention a shrinking labour pool. When looking for a peak labour strategy, an automated packaging solution that will scale with growth is an ideal solution. Automation runs 24/7 and doesn’t take a vacation or sick day, minimising labour requirements and providing room to meet peak demands. Sparck Technologies’ automated packaging solutions are built for reliability, with industry-leading uptime rates and service & support that can be counted upon.

Manual packaging labour issues

3. Process accuracy

Human error is natural, especially with repetitive tasks. However, advanced automated packaging technology is ultra-reliable, continually producing high-quality tailor-made packages day in, day out. An automated process ensures that packaging throughput remains consistent, with a custom right-sized box being made every few seconds. Greater control and consistency also ensure high-quality, reliable results and a more positive customer experience.

4. Less inventory management

As eCommerce continues to grow so too will the range of products on offer. For a manual packing operation that means a continually expanding requirement for differing sized boxes. Managing this inventory can only become more difficult – but it’s also unnecessary. Automated solutions like Sparck Technologies’ CVP systems utilise fanfold corrugate, eliminating the need to hold dozens of box sizes as inventory – freeing up valuable warehouse space. Fit-to-size packaging will use an average of 30% less corrugate material and material costs, eliminating the need for void-fillers.

Manual packaging labour issues
Solving the labour shortage with automated packaging

4. Less inventory management

As eCommerce continues to grow so too will the range of products on offer. For a manual packing operation that means a continually expanding requirement for differing sized boxes. Managing this inventory can only become more difficult – but it’s also unnecessary. Automated solutions like Sparck Technologies’ CVP systems utilise fanfold corrugate, eliminating the need to hold dozens of box sizes as inventory – freeing up valuable warehouse space. Fit-to-size packaging will use an average of 30% less corrugate material and material costs, eliminating the need for void-fillers.

Manual packaging labour issues

5. More efficient use of labour

Through automating the packaging process, employees are relieved from routine, tedious tasks and are freed up for more skillful, value-adding work that requires human ingenuity and dexterity. Overall, automation allows roles and processes to be redefined and maximised for optimal efficiency, increased production and employee satisfaction.

businesscase automated packaging ASDA

A critical benefit of using Sparck’s automated packaging solution CVP Impack is that the pressure on labour resources during peak periods has been reduced.

Right-sized packaging

Managing the labour shortage

Labour is no longer easy to come by, it has become a highly valued resource. So, it should be used wisely and to best effect, applied to activities that really require a high level of skill, intelligence and dexterity. However, for precision, high volume tasks, such as fast fit-to-size packaging, machines can easily outperform humans, making them the perfect choice for the heavy demands of today’s eCommerce sector. It may seem obvious that technology allows us to work smarter.

Fit-to-size automated packaging technology can transform a busy fulfilment centre by boosting capacity, saving costs and reducing dependency on the vagaries of the British labour market. Sparck Technologies’ CVP Automated Packaging Solutions can help businesses box smarter.

Create a right sized box every 7 seconds

CVP Impack

CVP Impack

Increased efficiencies
Up to 500 boxes per hour

Or step it up to every 3 seconds

CVP Everest

CVP Everest

High-speed packaging
Up to 1,100 boxes per hour

Enough talk, let’s automate

Create the perfect fit-to-size parcel with the lowest possible costs.

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