I just ran into this video about how Zappos uses robots in its warehouse from a company called Kiva Systems. If you’re interested in some cool technology, take a look at the video. The robots are not just making the pick and pack process more efficient, but they also save a ton of energy costs. There are entire sections of the warehouse that don’t need any lighting or climate control (because humans don’t go there).
My take: The sea of robots reminded me of a scene from the movie I, Robot. But I don’t expect that Zappos will have to deal with any renegade robots.
Seriously, though, there are a couple of key lessons here. First of all, companies can not compete on customer experience alone. Firms need to look at their entire value proposition. While Zappos is known for it’s customer service, it won’t survive unless it invests in world-class operations that allows it to offer competitive prices. Even the most loyal Zappos customers will abandon the retailer if they can get shoes elsewhere for a much lower price.
It’s also interesting to note how the employees are reacting to the robots. Automation can be great in a warehouse setting, but it tends to fail if they’re not fully accepted by the employees. Why? Because employees will either sabotage the devices or start quitting because of poor working conditions.
The bottom line: Maybe there’s an opening for R2-D2 at Zappos.