- Retailers are turning to robots to help them meet e-commerce demand.
- A number of VC-backed startups are partnering with retailers like Walmart on micro-fulfillment.
- Meet the startups that are leading the robot-powered fulfillment charge.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
As e-commerce demand surges, retailers are looking for solutions that will help them fulfill orders as efficiently as possible.
For many, that means turning to robots that can help workers out in fulfillment centers.
“I think anybody who’s dealing with consumers is really busy right now with this because you’ve got to figure out how to get things to consumers without having the consumers come to you, as much as possible,” Lisa Ellram, a professor of supply chain management at Miami University in Ohio, said in a recent interview with Insider.
Building and maintaining a workforce in fulfillment centers has historically been a challenge for companies, as warehouse jobs aren’t particularly high-paying or desirable, Ellram said. And, robots are able to handle certain tasks, like lifting heavy objects, that would be difficult or even dangerous for human workers to complete.
A number of startups are building robotic systems to relieve this labor pressure, which has been exacerbated as the COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously brought health and safety issues to the fore and led to a huge surge in online orders.
Several of these startups are specializing in micro-fulfillment, using robots to automate order picking and packing in spaces that are much smaller than the typical warehouse. In doing so, they hope to reduce last-mile costs for their retail partners and compete with incumbents that have already built large-scale fulfillment systems, like Amazon, Ocado, and Dematic.
These startups are raising millions in venture capital and partnering with major retailers including Walmart, Albertsons, Nordstrom, and Gap.