Thinking that goes beyond logistics for Waterstones


We help our customers build competitive advantage in a fast changing world, by finding new ways of improving the service that their customers receive.

The challenge

One sector that has clearly witnessed the dramatic consequences of a fast changing world is that of the traditional bookseller. The growth of online sales and electronic media has transformed people’s access to entertainment and information. The historical advantages of the conventional bookshop were now being fast eroded.

In the past, the sector had problems with forecasting, resulting in frequent re-ordering from suppliers and high costs in operational handling, creating long customer fulfilment times of over a week – a rather poor customer experience.

Waterstones needed to rebuild their competitive difference across their 300 shops and this meant finding a new way of speeding up their ability to get stock to stores, while also increasing the number of individual titles in each store. It required a simultaneous reduction in overall stock levels, to allow books to be presented in a new, customer-friendly and visually appealing way.

How we helped

The Unipart team began by focusing on the key elements of organisational design, cost-to-serve, and supply chain flow. The team made major changes to sales and order processing which significantly increased forecasting accuracy to 98%. This greatly improved relationships with suppliers, thus creating the potential for much greater use of a centralised inventory and the opportunity to significantly drive down costs.


A new 8am next day delivery service was implemented for shops ordering by 4pm the previous day from the centralised stock holding of 65,000 titles. This increased the availability of both new titles and old favourites across the 300 shop estate.

The results

Being faster and more agile meant a £5 million reduction in inventory holding, while at the same time increasing on-shelf availability. Subsequently, sales increased, the shops now had more space, a wider range of titles and flexibility to tailor their range to their local market.

Today, in-store and online, Waterstones handles in excess of 30 million books and 10 million related products per annum. The Unipart/Waterstones partnership swept the board at the 2015 European Supply Chain Excellence Awards, winning three awards as a result of the supply chain transformation work and a fourth for Unipart, who were awarded Best 3PL.