The Great Distribution Experiment: Advanced Logistics

The Great Distribution Experiment: Advanced Logistics

Last year, to retool its online and offline operations in order to offer next-day delivery, A.S. Watson Group, one of the world’s largest beauty-product retailers, ordered a dozen robots from IAM Robotics for a fulfillment center in theNetherlands. The retailer was not alone in its investment in robotics. In 2020, for the first time since records were kept, in orders for nonautomotive robots surpassed those for automotive robots (i.e., those used in the automotivesector) in North America, according to the Robotic Industries Association. The growth was driven by a strong fourthquarter, which was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotic sales, with a 63.6 percent increase over thefourth quarter of 2019. We do not yet know how many of those robots were purchased for logistics purposes, but wedo know that between 2018 and 2019, sales of logistics robots increased 110 percent. Over the last few years, retailers,manufacturers, and logistics providers have experimented with different modes of distribution to align with changingconsumer expectations of faster delivery speed and easier pickup options. As those expectations continue to increase,so will spending on advanced logistics technologies, including warehouse and delivery robots, supply-chain softwarewith artificial intelligence, drones and autonomous trucks. Reducing delivery times, while at the same time increasingoperational efficiencies, is becoming necessary to compete for the digitally trained consumer in an omnichannel environment. 

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