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Warehouse Packing Help Wanted, Excellent Penmanship Required

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Some warehouse workers have been preparing for the seasonal rush of orders and deliveries by learning to hand-tie ribbons and to carefully hand-write notes as luxury brands seek to reproduce the high-end store experience for items shipped to people’s homes.

At a warehouse in northern New Jersey one recent weekday, a trainee wearing a pair of blue gloves hesitantly tied a ribbon around one luxury brand’s box as a supervisor looked on. 

The ribbon had to conform to precise distances from the top and side edges of the box, said

Kevin Scattergood,

senior director of operations and contract logistics in the U.S. Northeast for Switzerland-based Kuehne + Nagel International AG. It can take several days to a couple of weeks to train workers to pull together the correct packaging from a growing mix of boxes, cartons and decorations for luxury clients, he said.

The efforts are yet another sign of how some logistics providers have moved beyond the basics of simply moving boxes, Mr. Scattergood said. “Now, it’s endless, quite frankly, the quantity of value-added services we provide,” he said.

Some of Kuehne + Nagel’s luxury retail customers have as many as 44 packaging sizes. Workers must be able to identify which items fit which packaging, fill the box with the correct inserts or cartons, then seal and decorate it. Workers also personalize items with engraving and hot-stamping, compile individual items into gift sets and add handwritten notes.

The added complexity runs counter to the drive for logistics efficiency that generally aims to push as many goods as quickly as possible through warehouses. Luxury brands, however, are willing to pay a premium for the extra workers needed to provide additional services, Mr. Scattergood said.

The demand for those flourishes has grown along with the online sale of luxury goods, as sellers of posh handbags, perfumes and high-end clothing have gone after more e-commerce

A shopper passes a Christian Dior store in Paris.



Photo:

Nathan Laine/Bloomberg News

A decade ago, some luxury fashion houses resisted the shift to e-commerce for fear it would dilute their brand. By last year, however, online sales had grown to account for 22% of luxury retail sales, up from 6% in 2015, according to reports from consulting firms McKinsey & Co. and Bain & Co.

So far this year, sales at luxury brands such as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering SA, which owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, have remained strong, while spending has lagged at mass-market retailers such as Target Corp. and

Best Buy Co.

Juan Manuel Gonzalez,

chief executive of G & Co., a New York City-based strategy consulting firm, said recent market research his firm conducted showed that for many high-end online shoppers presentation can be as important as shipping speed.

“The ribbon was one of the things consumers really marveled at,” Mr. Gonzalez said. Customers think: “I don’t care if it shipped to me from a warehouse—I am a consumer spending $2,000 on a bag. It should come in a nice package,” he said. 

The growing attention to online shoppers has spurred the growth of multibrand e-commerce platforms, like U.K.-based Matchesfashion.com and Germany-based Mytheresa Group GmbH, that provide both sales and logistics and now account for a bigger share of luxury online sales than high-end brands’ own websites.

A Louis Vuitton bag.



Photo:

guillaume souvant/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Because Mytheresa has just one physical store, in Munich, the unboxing is the closest the company comes to physically interacting with most of its customers, said

Isabel May,

chief customer experience officer and managing director.

Mytheresa carries about 200 brands. Workers at its Munich warehouse fold clothes in tissue paper, close the paper with a sticker and tie a ribbon into a bow. They then place the wrapped item in one of Mytheresa’s signature yellow boxes along with a thank-you note hand-signed by the person who packed the item.

Training to pack for Mytheresa takes four to six weeks. Ms. May said the company has looked at automating parts of the packaging process, including the ribbon, but “it never looks like when you do a manual bow.” 

“What we want to do is we want to create an emotion when you are unpacking the goods,” Ms. May said. “It comes back to this one physical touchpoint that we have with the customer, and it’s really important that this feels the highest quality, the highest luxury possible.”

Write to Paul Berger at [email protected]

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