This report, the third in the Technology at Work series, focuses on the automation driven by e-Commerce for physical goods. We look at the technology needed to automate order fulfillment, inventory management, and delivery when consumers shop online and examine the implications in a wide range of areas for industry, retailers, supply chains, real-estate, and transportation, looking too at the impact on labor and employment.
Growth in e-Commerce is the main driver of warehouse automation, a driver which itself will increase with broadband and mobile device penetration. In Japan, 32% of all goods bought on the Internet were bought on smartphones in 2016, up from 27% a year earlier. Millennials, those most likely to shop online, will soon enter their peak spending years. Global e-Commerce sales have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 20% over the last decade, and online retail sales have gone from ~2% of total to ~8%%.
While technology is not yet either capable or cost effective in all cases, this is likely to change. Our estimates show that that 80% of jobs in transportation, warehousing, and logistics are susceptible to automation as a consequence of the trends we observe in technology. Retail is one industry in which employment is likely to vanish, but unlike manufacturing jobs which are highly concentrated, the downfall of retail employment will affect every city and region. U.S. companies employ 2 million people just to do stock and order fulfillment work and over 90% of warehouse picking is currently done by hand. Migrating to automated picking gives productivity gains of 2x–3x that as compared to pick-to-conveyor operations and 5x–6x as compared to manual pick-to-pallet fulfillment centers.