Boxed, a e-commerce company that specializes in bulk item sales, has deployed a robotic package picking system at its fulfillment center in Union, N.J., but it intends to retain human employees displaced by that automation and retrain them to take on new jobs in the center, according to multiple media reports.
The company has spent almost two years planning the automation project, creating its own fulfillment software system and purchasing iBots to take over package picking, a move expected to result in a six-fold productivity increase.
The provider of the automated package picking system Boxed is using was not named, but the system itself resembles one deployed by Hudson’s Bay Company late last year in its Toronto area fulfillment center.
Robots are taking over supply chain duties — there is really no getting around that.
The productivity benefits are clear, but there remains the lingering concern that humans will be left on the sidelines and that industries such as retail, which have prided themselves for decades on being people businesses, will end up with far fewer people involved in the delivery of products.
Boxed is not alone, many retailers are moving to deploy robotic systems in warehouse and fulfillment centers. Hudson's Bay, for example, has expanded its use of robotic systems since its initial deployment last year. Amazon, though, is widely considered the leader in this movement, and with good reason: The company said at the end of last year that it had at least 45,000 robots working in its warehouses.
Amazon and others usually have been careful to describe how their supply chain robots are working alongside human employees in a sort of we're-all-in-this-together-even-though-some-of-us-are-made-of-metal ethos.
But, very few, if any, companies have taken the step that Boxed is taking, describing openly and in great detail exactly how it is keeping all 115 human employees at its fulfillment center on payroll — by re-training them for other jobs in the fulfillment centers. This will come as no surprise to people who know Boxed as the company that last year took a stand against unfair pricing on women's hygiene products. Everyone says they care, but Boxed cares enough to craft a thoughtful strategy around the people at its center with their job longevity in mind. It cares enough to explain what it's really doing, instead of just vaguely re-assuring consumers that all is well, which could translate into greater market attention.