Robots Transform Retail

Last week I shared some thoughts on the Industrial Revolution. My WHII students discussed the question “Did the benefits of the Industrial Revolution outweigh the negative changes that took place in society?”

This week I want to discuss the modern Industrial Revolution. The historical shift that took place in the late 18th century is continuing to transform society today. Businesses spend billions of dollars each year looking for innovative ways to increase productivity and gain an upper hand on their competitors.

Wired Magazine recently highlighted several retailers (Gap, Zappos, Staples) who have introduced robots to their warehouses. When you ordered a product in the past, employees were responsible to find the product you ordered, carry it back to their station, and package that product for delivery. Now that robots are involved, here’s how the process works:

  1. You order a product online.
  2. A robot determines where the product is located in the warehouse.
  3. A robot finds the product and delivers it to a human being.
  4. A human being finalizes the order.

Here are some of the obvious benefits to retailers using robots as part of their labor force.

  • Robots don’t require a paycheck or health benefits.
  • Robots don’t complain.
  • Robots don’t need a lunch break.
  • Robots are very efficient.

In the article, Pete Wurman (a computer science Ph.D. who was part of the team that developed the robot technology) asserts this “technology will be the de facto way to run a warehouse.” In other words, the traditional warehouse process is going to change in significant ways, much like industries during the Industrial Revolution. I’ve highlighted the pros of these changes. I want you to comment on the question below:

Long term, what negative effects might result from the introduction of robots to this facility and others like it?

The video below is worth watching to gain a better perspective.


Add yours
  1. 1
    Jane Taylor

    There are two major negative effects in my opinion. One being that peoples jobs may be lost and taken over by robots. Therefore, these workers would run out of a source of income. Secondly, the robot system does not exactly seem flawless. Bugs and defects with the order seem likely to occur when a robot is the thing you’re depending on to get the job done. This will result in many unhappy customers.

  2. 2
    Taylor D.

    I think the main effect of having robots working in warehouses is, human lose their jobs. With the robots working in the warehouses the humans get laid off and have no source of income. I also think if people buying the product have questions about the product they are purchusing, the robots are limited to how they can responsd. Where as if the human were working at the warehouse they could assist and thoroughly help you. Also, the robots could have malfunctions and send off the wrong product and etc.

    I used my worksheet, “Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses” as my source.

  3. 3
    Callie Owens

    One major negative effect that will occur by using robots in warehouses and factories is that humans will lose their jobs. We already have several people in our country without jobs at this time, and since factories are using robots we are just adding to that problem. Another not so good effect is that the robots could possibly have a lot more problems than humans. Robots can easily breakdown and get more orders wrong. Robots may not get orders complete in a timely manner which will result in customers not being happy and companies not getting good reviews.

  4. 4
    Ryan Robinson

    The negatives are that there will be less jobs in companies because they are being replaced by machines.So in the long term there will be even less jobs and more machines.There is another downfall because the machines may produce products faster but it may not all ways be more efficient than if done by workers.The machines may have more problems because they could malfunction and make wrong products or send products to the wrong place.The machines could be late with orders and more machines means more people without jobs and more poverty than there all ready is like i said in the begining.

  5. 5
    jesse miller

    the biggest negative to the factories having machines do all or mostly all the jobs is that people will lose their jobs. and with the economy in the shape it is now, thats not such a good idea. so even if the machines cut costs for the factories now, down the line it will end up costing them more then they would have thought. i say this because with everyones jobs getting replaced with machines people wont be able to find work, no work means no money, and no money means that they cant buy the wants and then even the simple needs like food. so with noone buying anything the factories wont be making any money and will have to shut down so then noone will be making any money or buying anything, there goes a world wide economy collaps.

  6. 6
    Drew Nasholds

    One negative effect with the robot system is that the system could easily mess up and break down. Robots, unlike humans, can not fix their own problems, therefore, can easily cause unhappy customers. Also, the robots might get the job done quicker but the job might not get done with as much care as it would with humans. Another effect, is that humans will lose their jobs. There have been many instances like this in the past, where a piece of machinery is brought in and takes humans out of work. Humans will no longer have a source of income.

  7. 7
    Nic M.

    i think that the pros of robots are: faster production of materials and textiles with capablilties of being precise and on point. the cons: the people who used to do all the work and “never skipped a beat” are now put out of a job. having thirty workers that have to be paid every week is costly to the company, whereas they get these machines to replace them buy buying them in bulk, assigning them tasks, all to save a buck in a dying economy. they put the people that invest in thier products out of work so the company slowly looses income regardless. i do however think that the impact of technology that has swept this nation has been a marvel in the eyes of society and are using these machines for the wrong purposes. thats my take on this technology being put into motion instead of reliable human labor.

  8. 8
    Jeanette Harrison

    One of the main negative effects of the robots working in manufacturing and factories is that many humans will lose their jobs. Sure the robots would be a big help and can get things done a lot quicker, but how else would humans find a good source of income if people keep trying to find something better than humans.Another con to robots in manufacturing is that they malfunction very easily and unlike humans can not respond with why they are having problems which will cause more stress to the work place.

    “Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses” was my source.

  9. 9

    The main negative effect would be due to the robots many people would lose their jobs. Another negative effect would be if something went wrong with one robot many other things could go wrong. If a system was down then the robots wouldn’t be able to do what it is supposed to do and slow down production.

  10. 10

    I think that the long term effects from the introduction of robots will include that robots will literally take over the world. Not in a way as say the movie Irobot but as in away as we will stop needing people to run things. Robots help eliminate hard labor conditions, but they also teach people to be lazy.

    In conclusion, long term effects are not looking so chipper.

  11. 11
    Leelea R.

    There are some really negative outcomes of this situation. First off, people may lose their jobs because of these new “workers” and many families will have to do without certain essentials, like food and clothing. Secondly, these robots could have kinks or bugs that will mess up the whole process rather than helping it.

  12. 12
    Slash Harkiri

    okay, i heard quite a lot of people say that workers would lose their jobs, yeah, you may be right. but more jobs would be CREATED aswell. Someone still needs to run maintenance on the robots, its not so much that workers would be out of the job, its more that they would have to just switch their specializations.

  13. 13


    Good point. However, if it takes just as many people to maintain the robots, it doesn’t make sense for a company to purchase a team of robots in the first place. Intelligent companies make purchases after investigating the return on investment. If robots don’t help them cut salary costs, they might as well keep having humans do the work.


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