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Gap Inc. Says Digital Boom Sped Up Automated Warehouse Plans

Like many apparel retailers, Gap Inc. has seen the digital writing on the wall, and now it’s investing to support its stated ambition of driving half of all sales through the web by 2023.

The San Francisco-based clothing chain expects to break ground on a new Texas distribution center in April. The 850,000-square-foot location, augmenting a warehouse network spanning Arizona, California, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and Ontario, Canada, will leverage a new fleet of Kindred robots helping to process 1 million units daily at full capacity.

Gap Inc. said it reworked the timeline for this project in light of pandemic-influenced trends around online shopping.

The highly automated facility will feature a full array of systems maximizing efficiency and output. Each Kindred Sort Orb’s robotic “arm,” surrounded by cubbies, will rapidly and accurately sort batches of units assigned to myriad digital orders. An automated storage and retrieval system offers a storage capacity of approximately 450,000 cases, employing automated cranes that deftly navigate 24 aisles of storage space to return or collect thousands of cases.

Two stacked Bombay unit sorters comprise a conveyor belt of trays that split open in the middle and drop product into the appropriate chute. Though one can process 500,000 units daily, the second sorter will come in handy for demand spikes, enabling the facility to handle up to 1 million units during peak season, a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal.

The clothing firm also opted to include auto-baggers that quickly and efficiently wrap e-commerce orders. Automating this simple but repetitive task means the retailer can assign associates to high-value operational processes elsewhere in the facility, the spokesperson added.

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The new facility will support Gap Inc.’s growing digital business, which surged 61 percent in the third quarter. It will initially serve the Old Navy brand, which saw a “meaningful” online acceleration in Q3, though the company pointed out that many of its other facilities simultaneously serve e-commerce and retail stores.

Gap Inc. chief operating officer Shawn Curran said the new facility supports the company’s three-year strategy and plan to double the online business, adding that it “needed to expand our fulfillment network to provide a great experience for our customers today and ensure we have the ability to grow in the future.”

When considering where to put down roots, Gap Inc. noted that the Longview location’s local jurisdiction dovetails with the “aggressive schedule” for construction, and cited the area’s labor force as “sufficient to support our operational requirements,” the spokesperson added. The retailer also took advantage of incentives that is described as beneficial for company and community alike.

Expected to be fully operational by August next year, the distribution center is slated to support 500 full-time jobs by the end of 2023, expanding to 1,000 over five years. By 2026, Gap Inc. aims to attract another 1,000 seasonal and part-time positions.