Apr 25th, 2024

AMRs in the spotlight: Business-to-Consumer Ecommerce

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are a hot topic in the logistics sector, and as Invar Group has previously highlighted in our writings on the subject, one area absolutely ripe for this wave of robotization is B2C e-commerce. There are several reasons why this is the case, as we have outlined in our previous writings on the subject, in short summary they are as follows: 

Digital native – Integrating digital shopping with digital logistical support is as natural as salted caramel or cookies and cream 

Range of scale – AMRs can operate effectively and easily for everything from niche SMEs to giant regional/national/international retail chains 

Ultra complex order control – B2C ecommerce’s complex order situation is ripe for revolutionizing with AI directed algorithmic systems for efficient picking procedure 

However, while B2C ecommerce is possibly the single most natural market-sector to take advantage of AMRs, it’s also a very broad range of products and service lines. Everything from cosmetics and beauty to construction and home baking. One warehouse might stock 1970s vinyl reproductions while another might sell figurines of Five Nights At Freddies characters and both would fall under the “B2C ecommerce” bracket. So, to delve a little deeper into the range of what AMRs can offer the B2C ecommerce world, the Invar Group will now provide this handy overview of the biggest sectors in the digital retail space, and exactly how well AMRs would fit into the overall marketplace. 

Apparel and footwear – There probably isn’t a sector that could do better from AMRs than clothing. Order numbers are often large and complex, and thanks to the high percentage of returns you need an ultra-high efficiency way of restocking as well as picking. Not to mention the need for greater accuracy when you’re dealing with varying colours and sizes of certain products that are the same. Add in the fact that clothing is perhaps the single most seasonally exposed marketplace, and one where next-day shipping expectations from customers are more ubiquitous than ever, and you have a marketplace ready and waiting for widescale AMR deployment. 

Books – While the ordering and product range are not quite as complex as apparel and footwear in the same way, books too have a huge potential for AMR applicability. Product ranges may be less complex, but orders can be more so. With smaller numbers of items per order, individual order groupings become much more elaborate and confusing. An ideal situation for an algorithmic and automated approach to picking organisation. 

Home furniture – This sector will get some use out of AMRs, but due to the larger sizes of the items involved, other technologies may be more apt. Self-assembly furniture kits and components could well be moved around by AMRs in some warehouses, however you are much less likely to get the complex range of orders needing to be grouped and reorganized in the same way as other sectors. AMRs have some value in this sector, but not as much as others. 

Electronics – Due to the higher value nature of many of the items that fall into this category, the item-per-order ratios are often, but not always, lower than many other sectors. Consequently, AMRs may be valuable here, but not so much as some other areas. However, the items are not quite at the size where moving them about requires anything less than a delicate and considered approach. For that reason, the AMRs ability to be quick while also being safe is more of a value here than in some other sectors. Electronics retailers should take seriously the possibility of an AMR powered future. 

DIY & craft – This area operates like a hybrid of electronics and apparel. On one hand, there are many products that function much like clothing. In the same way that you can have a blouse with twelve assorted sizes and thirteen different colours, you can have bolts with four widths, nine lengths, and three distinct colours and construction metals. However, what you also have is a range of more singular items such as drills, glue guns, saws, lathes etc that would more likely be purchased on their own or in very small groups. This combined means that the DIY and craft sector is a nightmare of complex orders and range of varied potentials for consumer behavior. AMR applicability here is high. 

Physical Media – The physical media market is definitely on the wide scale decline. Although many news headlines were shocked in recent years to discover vinyl sales were outpacing CDs, the truth is that physical media is becoming increasingly a niche sector. Be it music, film, television series, or video games, the download button is more popular in this sector. Ironically however, this is ideal for AMR usage. Niche sectors are best suited to smaller scale flexible deployments of AMRs, rather than the hulking huge built-in-place ASRS (automated storage and retrieval) systems of other options. While the order complexity will be lower than other sectors, the niche size of the sector makes AMRs much more a logical move forward. 

Gardening – This area is solidly split in terms of its AMR applicability, but it can be broadly summarised by the following rule of thumb. The larger your average item, the less logical AMR usage might be. If you are moving smaller items, such as hedgerow plants, pre potted seedlings, table-sized vases and mid-range garden ornaments etc, then AMRs will have substantial utility. Most likely comparable to what you see in the DIY and Craft or book sectors. However, if you are moving garden furniture or larger statues, gazebo construction kits, or generally bigger items, you might well be better off with automated forklifts, or even a full blown static ASRS. 

Written by

Invar Admin