The invisible backbone of Europe’s e-commerce

Picture this: you’ve got your eye on a last-minute gift, a new novel you’ve eagerly awaited, or even some hard-to-source ingredients for a dinner party tomorrow evening. You click ‘order’ and the next day — or perhaps within a matter of hours — it arrives on your doorstep.  

Despite it being taken for granted today, this kind of rapid transaction is relatively new, and in fact evolved significantly across continental Europe1 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

While the investor spotlight has recently turned to logistics and e-commerce, it is an area that Blackstone first identified as having the potential for growth back in the late 2000s, as it set about identifying and investing in the industries of the future. This type of investment approach is in the firm’s DNA. Through spotting which sectors have tailwinds early on and investing meaningfully in those sectors, Blackstone has been able to play a unique role in supporting the growth of European economies.  

The global investment company, which specializes in alternative asset investments, believes that investing in logistics supply chains and associated industries is crucial for spurring Europe’s growth. That’s why, in the 2010s, Blackstone expanded its logistics portfolio in Europe2 from 2 percent of the real- estate assets it manages to almost 40 percent. This translates into a total of 1.2 billion square feet of logistics infrastructure3 and investments of tens of billions to support the supply chains that are necessary to get your order from A to B, often within hours. 

Location, location, location 

Where those goods are stored is a critical part of this supply chain. The more local the network of warehouses, the quicker orders can be shipped — which is essential for next- or same-day delivery. Fuel and transport costs amount to over half of provider base costs – while, in the U.K., warehouse rental costs only make up around 5 percent. This means that shorter distances from warehouse to home can lower the end costs for the consumer, and reduce transportation costs and the associated environmental impact.   

Keeping e-commerce costs low benefits everyone, from small business owners who can ship their goods across Europe, to those living in remote areas who now have access to all kinds of products they can’t necessarily find locally. For these benefits to be achieved, there needs to be a network of locations ranging from big warehouses to local hubs in and around cities. Blackstone is focusing its investments and expertise on finding and developing the best locations to base logistics operations.  

Its portfolio company Logicor, a leading owner and manager of logistics real estate, is acquiring, developing and refurbishing warehouses across Europe. It recently began the redevelopment of a 170,000 square feet asset in Garonor in northern Paris as part of its longer-term strategy to gradually regenerate the park into a modern, ‘last-mile’ location to help meet soaring customer demand from across the Greater Paris region.  

Another piece of the logistics puzzle comes from Mileway, Europe’s largest owner of ‘last-mile’ logistics real-estate assets. It was launched by Blackstone in 2019 and operates a network of warehouses close to urban areas. With a total of 158 million square feet spread across 1,700 properties4 , Mileway serves the U.K., Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries5 , as well as other leading European economies. 

Finally, there is St Modwen: a fast-growing U.K.-based logistics company providing strategically-located distribution warehouses. It recently struck a deal with Gousto6, a home-recipe box company, to develop a 295,000 square feet chilled fulfilment center in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire.   

Exploring automation 

Just as important as the where is the how. Embracing and incorporating technology is critical to delivering the increasing number of e-commerce orders, which have skyrocketed over the past decade. In Europe alone, the industry grew 10 percent, to €757 billion7, between 2019 to 2020 — and this trajectory is expected to continue. According to Euromonitor, internet commerce is expected to see an almost 10 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2026.  

Within these warehouses, people often work alongside robots to fulfil orders and support surging demand. This automation has helped to temper8 the growing employment shortages experienced in recent years, which extend from HGV drivers to warehouse staff. In the U.K. alone, the shortfall is estimated to reach 400,000 roles by 2026. 

Blackstone spotted this early and is using its investments and expertise to support the role of automation in logistics. One such example is stow in Belgium, a manufacturer of warehouse racking and shelving, which recently launched stow Robotics, a new unit dedicated to warehouse automation. Their state-of-the-art technology is transforming the wider logistics process through ‘out of the box’ solutions, including their Atlas 2D Shuttle and e.scala systems. These automated carriers search shelves to find the right products for orders, with a control system intelligently working out the optimum path. Increasing its footprint in the sector, stow recently acquired a majority stake in iFollow, a Paris-based company that develops autonomous mobile robots and proprietary software. 

Automation is often seen as a zero-sum game for employment, but many think otherwise. Automated systems need human effort to function, from the engineers who build and maintain them, to machine- learning specialists who use data to further improve services.  

The future of logistics 

E-commerce is here to stay. By looking at the long term, spotting and supporting emerging industries, Blackstone is using its investments to help create the industries and highly- skilled jobs of the future. With that comes a better tomorrow for Europe.  

References:

1Ecommerce News. (2021). European ecommerce grew two- to threefold amidst pandemic. Available at: https://ecommercenews.eu/european-ecommerce-grew-two-to-threefold-amidst-pandemic/

2Blackstone. (2021). Q&A: Luke Petherbridge and Ken Caplan on the Opportunity in Logistics. Available at: https://www.blackstone.com/insights/article/qa-luke-petherbridge-and-ken-caplan-on-the-opportunity-in-logistics/

3Blackstone. (2021). Blackstone Real Estate Acquires Premium Industrial and Logistics Assets, Helping Reinforce Position as One of India’s Top Investors. Available at: https://www.blackstone.com/news/press/blackstone-real-estate-acquires-premium-industrial-and-logistics-assets-helping-reinforce-position-as-one-of-indias-top-investors/

4Blackstone. (2022). Blackstone Announces €21 Billion Recapitalization of Mileway. Available at: https://www.blackstone.com/news/press/blackstone-announces-e21-billion-recapitalization-of-mileway/

5Mileway. (2019). Blackstone launches Mileway – largest last mile logistics real estate company in Europe. Available at: https://mileway.com/press_release/blackstone-launches-mileway-largest-last-mile-logistics-real-estate-company-in-europe/

6Property Week. (2022). Gousto signs Burton fulfilment centre deal with St Modwen. Available at: https://www.propertyweek.com/news/gousto-signs-burton-fulfilment-centre-deal-with-st-modwen/5120253.article

7Ecommerce News. (2021). European ecommerce was worth 757 billion euros in 2020. Available at: https://ecommercenews.eu/european-ecommerce-was-worth-757-billion-euros-in-2020/

8Global Cold Chain News. (2022). Staff shortages drive automation. Available at: https://www.globalcoldchainnews.com/staff-shortages-drive-automation/



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