April 24, 2019

Port Logistics Group acquires e-com software specialist Whiplash

Move lets 3PL balance direct-to-consumer fulfillment with retail and wholesale operations in a single DC, firm says.

By Ben Ames

Omnichannel logistics service provider Port Logistics Group (PLG) has acquired the e-commerce fulfillment software provider Whiplash Merchandising Inc., just over a year after backing the Silicon Valley startup with a financial investment as an ongoing effort to keep up with the changing demands of online shoppers.

Whiplash is a technology company providing IT integration, order management system (OMS), and warehouse management system (WMS) capabilities that are specialized to handle the demands of e-commerce fulfillment. Under new ownership, Whiplash will continue to operate under its current brand and with its existing leadership team, PLG said.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Los Angeles-based PLG said its initial investment in 2018 had amounted to a 10 percent stake in the firm, and today's move completes the entire purchase. In previous investments intended to bulk up its omnichannel fulfillment capabilities, PLG in 2018 launched a pilot program with a fleet of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) from automation vendor Locus Robotics Inc. and expanded to new facilities in Columbus, Ohio, and at the Port of Jacksonville.

Today's announcement further strengthens PLG's capabilities at providing direct-to-consumer services for its clients, 80 percent of which are retailers selling apparel, accessories, and home-ware goods, the company said. As a third party logistics provider (3PL), PLG ships inventory for those clients to a range of destinations, including retail stores, specialty shops, and consumers' homes. While the expansion of e-commerce is putting increasing emphasis on the home delivery portion of that mix, reports of the demise of the storefront have been exaggerated, according to Greg Morello, president and chief commercial officer of PLG.

"We think brick and mortar retail fulfillment is still a critical part of the business," Morello said in an interview. "Our customers are redesigning their facilities, building smaller retail stores, creating pop-up stores, and increasing their direct-to-consumer sales. But wherever the shipment is going, we're often the last one to touch it before the fulfillment is complete."

By installing Whiplash's WMS in its fulfillment centers, PLG says it is able to ensure that each retailer's "brand experience" is executed regardless of which channel generated the original order, he said. With its specialty in fulfilling e-commerce orders, the Whiplash platform allows PLG to make sure every order is correct, handle changes at the last minute, and process returns.

Using a specialty WMS for its e-commerce orders also allows PLG to balance the workload of its e-commerce orders with traditional retail and wholesale distribution orders, Morello said. The company plans to install both the Whiplash WMS and a legacy WMS platform at most facilities, allowing a single DC to handle the traditional retail and wholesale peak season between August and October, as well as the direct-to-consumer peak during the holiday rush beginning on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Because most of its DCs are between 400,000 and 700,000 square feet, PLG says it has enough space to co-locate those complementary operations at a single site, and shift resources to meet the demands at any given time of year.

Following the Whiplash acquisition, PLG will continue to roll out additional changes it needs to handle e-commerce demands. The company plans to install the Whiplash WMS software at DCs in New Jersey, California, Columbus, Ohio, and Savannah, Ga., then add Seattle in a future round. At the same time, PLG says it will follow its "successful" pilot of the Locus Robotics AMRs at its Chino, Calif., facility by extending the robots to all of its e-commerce DCs, he said.

"The convergence of data, technology and ecommerce has changed the game for logistics and shipping providers," Morello said in a release. "It's no longer just about fulfilling orders. It's about providing a seamless customer experience from the second a consumer clicks 'buy' to the moment the product arrives in-hand. The acquisition of Whiplash allows us to complement our already robust logistics IT with more complete order management and shopping cart-ecommerce solutions demanded by omnichannel shippers today."

About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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