Zappos Goes Robotic

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.

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I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

5 thoughts on “Zappos Goes Robotic”

  1. At one point in my life, a shoe warehouse was a vital part of my career success. When we tried to introduce automation – barcode scanning – to improve throughput and reduce human errors, the scanner would suspiciously break every week. Dropped accidentally, batteries missing, etc. A misguided attempt to preserve a job and negative impact on customer experience.

  2. Beyond the ROI experienced by Zappos, it was enjoyable to hear them highlight some of the “unplanned” benefits of the system (energy savings, happy workers due to the serene environment, reduced shrink, etc.).

    While a fundamentally sound ROI is necessary for an investment of this nature, innovation also has an interesting way of delivering unexpected results (good and bad) that can be valuable to the observant company.

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