With China’s e-commerce market now bigger than the markets in the US and Europe combined, logistics is increasingly intertwined with the online shopping boom in the world’s second-largest economy, three experts told MTD TV on Wednesday.
In the fifth and final session of Mingtiandi’s Asia Logistics Real Estate Forum, Zhou Bo, chief operating officer for ESR China; Victor Mok, chairman and chief executive of the asset management platform for GLP China; and Dennis Yeo, head of investors services for Asia Pacific at Cushman & Wakefield, explained how growth of China’s e-commerce sector has pushed logistics developers to become service providers and reshaped how warehouses are designed and operated.
With same-day delivery for e-commerce purchases now giving way to a two-hour standard in China, the hour-long session, which was sponsored by Yardi, provided real-life examples of how developers managing nearly 70 million square metres (753.5 million square feet) of warehouses are creating new service templates that they are exporting around the region.
Online Drives Demand
ESR’s Zhou, representing the largest APAC-focused logistics real estate platform, underscored the vital role of e-commerce in fuelling mainland warehouse activity. He noted that e-commerce firms make up 43 percent of customer demand across ESR China’s warehouse footprint of 9 million square metres — and the share is even bigger when accounting for third-party logistics providers servicing e-commerce.
“Aside from direct leases by e-commerce players, just like the 3PLs, add them together and related to e-commerce is probably over 50 percent,” Zhou said.
GLP’s Mok confirmed that e-commerce is a key growth driver in China for Asia’s biggest warehouse builder, which manages 60 million square metres of warehouse space in China at both self-developed and third-party facilities. He stressed that managing a warehouse competently and using the latest technology can be as important as the asset itself when working with e-commerce tenants.
“We have to bear in mind that the e-commerce guys need efficiency,” Mok said. “They cannot do manual operation anymore. So you can see, they themselves went very quickly from labour-intensive to mechanised to now very much automated operation within the warehouse.”
Zhou said that ESR tenants such as e-commerce giant JD.com are using robotic systems to upgrade their speed and ensure two-hour delivery in major metropolitan cities in China.
When Tenants Become Developers
While JD is among the top tenants for ESR and other warehouse builders in China, the Beijing-based giant has also been busy assembling its own warehouse portfolio under infrastructure arm JD Property, which like ESR has enjoyed financial backing from US private equity major Warburg Pincus.
C&W’s Yeo acknowledged that e-commerce firms developing their own facilities could provide competition for developers such as Hong Kong-based GLP and Singapore’s ESR, particularly when pitching local governments for allocation of industrial land. But the veteran property consultant noted that the steep learning curve required to operate portfolios of warehouse properties would ensure an ongoing role for developers in leasing space to online shopping platforms.
“They’re not the expert in supply chain, they’re not the expert in network design, they’re not the expert in warehouse design, as well as the technology that goes into a warehouse,” Yeo said. He sees continued collaboration with specialists like ESR and GLP as the path forward for most e-commerce providers.
Cold Chain and Data Centres
With China’s e-commerce having grown to be worth $2.1 trillion this year, the expansion of specialty areas such as online grocery delivery has forced warehouse developers to offer new types of facilities previously unseen in the market.
With more fresh food being delivered via desktop orders or smartphone apps, Zhou said ESR has introduced cold storage facilities that include separate rooms for frozen, chilled and ambient temperatures on a single floor, so that food providers can rapidly consolidate and deliver orders to their hungry customers.
The Hong Kong-listed builder has also begun converting some of its existing facilities for data centre use in China, having recently transformed a warehouse property near Shanghai into a server facility for a top data centre developer.
GLP has also been on the rackspace track in China, and it has now established 800 megawatts of installed capacity on the mainland, as industrial developers add more technically sophisticated projects to their portfolios across the region.