UK bookseller Waterstones has suffered weeks of disruption to its business operations following an upgrade of its warehouse management system, according to reports on social media.
Employees took to Twitter over the weekend to complain of ongoing stock shortages, which some attributed to Waterstones’ recent migration to a new warehouse management system from US vendor Blue Yonder.
Update: Waterstones has confirmed that the Blue Yonder migration created a backlog in stock deliveries, which it is now working through. But it added that some stock availability issues may reflect its own stock management choices, which cannot be attributed to the migration.
In response to a tweet by book marketing consultant Sam Missingham, a number of Waterstones booksellers reported that they have encountered stock shortages in stores for six weeks.
“I feel like we’ve [been] lied to the whole time,” said one user. “The delays have been extended and extended.” Another said they have removed six display tables and three bays of shelves from their store to compensate for the lack of stock.
Another Twitter user said the stock issues resulted from an ongoing warehouse management software migration. “Our systems for deliveries and order processing were super outdated. They were upgrading them and something has gone wrong, so orders are not matching up properly on the system and as a result we haven’t been able to get any books whether they’re stock or for customers.”
In a statement to Tech Monitor, Waterstones confirmed that it upgraded its stock management software to Blue Yonder last month. “This is now operational, with stock flowing to our bookshops and customers alike,” the company said. “Over the implementation period, however, a backlog of orders was created which we are now processing as quickly and efficiently as we can.
“Our expectation is to have the backlog of stock deliveries into shops caught up over the quiet August period, with August new releases now being processed without delay,” it explained. “Indeed, by September we anticipate beginning to benefit from the much more sophisticated platform now at our disposal.”
The company added that the stock availability issues may also reflect its own purchasing decisions. “Unfortunately, no amount of sophisticated new warehouse systems changes the fact that as booksellers we choose what to buy, sometimes being a little too reticent, sometimes too enthusiastic,” it said. “We can’t blame Blue Yonder for this.”
What is Blue Yonder?
Blue Yonder is the trading name of the enterprise software company formerly known as JDA Software. JDA acquired a German provider of AI solutions for retailers named Blue Yonder in 2018, and adopted the name as its overall brand in 2020.
The combined company was acquired by Japanese industrial giant Panasonic for $5.6bn last year. Panasonic said it aims to accelerate the ‘autonomous supply chain‘ by combining its own industrial engineering, IoT and edge computing solutions with Blue Yonder’s AI-driven software.
Waterstones has 291 retail stores in the UK, Ireland, Amsterdam and Brussels. It was acquired by American hedge fund Elliott Advisors in 2018. It has since made several high-profile acquisitions, including US book retailer Barnes & Noble in 2019 and Blackwell’s, the UK’s biggest independent bookseller, earlier this year.
The company also owns the London bookseller Hatchards, Irish shop Hodges Figgis, and Foyles, which it purchased in 2018. Reports suggest that Blackwell’s and other small booksellers owned by Waterstones are also affected by the warehouse issues.
This story has been updated to reflect Waterstones’ comment.