How is e-commerce affecting the forklift industry? In the past decade, e-commerce has revolutionised the way most people shop. From November 2006 to October 2021, e-commerce sales in the UK have grown from 2.8% of all retail to 26.3%
This figure is only expected to rise as smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices grow in popularity around the world. The impact that this has had on high street retailers is well documented, but few people are talking about the effects that the rise of e-commerce has had on the forklift industry.
We can already see the positive effects that the changes in our shopping habits have had on the forklift industry In 2009, just 17,658 forklift units were sold in the UK, compared to over 35,000 units sold in 2018.
For professionals who work in logistics, the rise of e-commerce looks to be a very good thing. Increasing online shopping is creating a steep demand for warehouse and logistics specialists, including forklift operators and forklift mechanics. The trajectory in which e-commerce is heading in is, in fact, increasing the demand for forklift operators and other logistics personnel in two ways: • Higher volumes of online orders require more staff to fulfil; and • As the e-commerce sector becomes more competitive, consumers put pressure on retailers to increase delivery speed and efficiency Over the next decade, there’s no doubt that we will begin to see more online retailers offering ‘oneday delivery’ options for consumers willing to pay a little extra; this might even be necessary for smaller retailers to compete with e-commerce giant Amazon as Millennials and Gen Z-ers become the most powerful generations in terms of spending power. As well as forklift operators, the rise in ecommerce will likely impact forklift suppliers, manufacturers, and engineers positively.
Experts predict that the global forklift market will increase in size from $33,878.7 million in 2019 to $42,519.4 million in 2030, which reflects an increase in size of around 2.8% a year
The class of forklift that has experienced the most growth in the past is class 5, or internal combustion engine pneumatic tire trucks. However, it’s possible that in the future, we’ll see a steeper increase in class 1 and 2 forklift trucks, both of which are popular in warehousing. These classes of forklift are also electric, which will help retailers and logistics specialists to meet carbon-neutrality goals over the coming decade.
Of course, nobody knows exactly how fast the popularity of e-commerce will grow in the future; the Covid-19 pandemic offers the perfect illustration of how unexpected events can dramatically shift the trajectories of certain industries. Some sources predict that almost 95% of all shopping will be at least in part facilitated by e-commerce by 2040. If this is true, the impacts on the global forklift industry will be unprecedented.
However, it’s not all good news for forklift operators. As online retailers feel increasing pressure to speed up production and save costs to compete with ultra-fast, ultra-cheap retailers like Amazon, these savings could come at the cost of operators. Modern advances in AI and robotics mean that cutting-edge forklifts are capable of autonomous or partially autonomous lifting, which could decrease demand for forklift operators in the long term.
Of course, trained operatives will still be needed to supervise automated machines, but the number of staff per warehouse needed to supervise automated forklifts will be much lower. We can already see the signs that automation is coming by looking at current spending by some of the UK’s biggest online retailers and logistics experts. Online grocery retailer Ocado uses over a thousand robots in its warehouses, while logistics firm DHL has already invested over $300 million to quadruple the number of robots in DHL warehouses
. These robots are not just doing the work of forklift operators; they’re also doing the work of pickers, packers, and other warehouse staff. There are various ways that forklift operators can protect themselves from these changes, starting today. It’s clear that the global demand for forklifts and therefore forklift specialists will, on the whole, rise over the coming years. Forklift professionals wanting to take steps to future-proof their careers can begin expanding their skills today with a view to moving into technical or managerial roles within the industry in the future. With the rise of automated forklift trucks and robots, there’s no doubt that an accompanying demand for health and safety and logistics specialists will be needed to coordinate and supervise the safe and efficient operation of automated machines. Perhaps one of the primary challenges of the forklift industry over the coming years will be keeping up with increased demand as e-commerce trends continue. As we’ve seen recently in the UK’s HGV crisis, the UK’s workforce relies heavily on non-UK citizens, and growing restrictions caused by Brexit, Covid-19, and other international matters could significantly impact our ability to meet demand in the future.
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