Fashion chain Gap Inc is speeding up its rollout of picking robots across its warehouses to fulfil online orders in a bid to ramp up productivity with less human contact.
Gap Inc has accelerated its orders and implementation of the Kindred SORT system in its warehouses across the U.S. so it can limit human contact during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gap reached a deal early this year to more than triple the number of item-picking robots it uses to 106 by september in the US.
Then the pandemic struck North America, forcing the company to close all its stores in the region, including those of Banana Republic, Old Navy and other brands.
Meanwhile, its warehouses faced more Web orders and fewer staff to fulfill them because of social distancing rules Gap had put in place.
“We could not get as many people in our distribution centers safely,” Kevin Kuntz, Gap’s senior vice president of global logistics fulfillment, told reuters.
Gap partnered with Kindred AL to source its robotic stations for its US warehouses.
Kevin called on Kindred to get the robots installed earlier and Marin Tchakarov, Kindred’s Chief Operating Officer, said it was able to deploy 10 of them to Gap’s warehouse near Nashville, Tennessee and 20 near Columbus, Ohio, with plans to finish the rollout to four of Gap’s five US facilities by July, months ahead of schedule.
Kindred told Reuters they are seeing a rise in inquiries from prospective retail clients, though travel restrictions and the need to limit human contact make new installations a challenge.
Researchers from the Brookings Institution have said hgh interest in automation often follows economic shocks.
“At these moments, employers shed less-skilled workers and replace them with technology and higher-skilled workers, which increases labor productivity as a recession tapers off,” the think tank’s March report said.
Gap last month said it faced a cash shortage, prompting it to borrow $2.25 billion. Three-quarters of its revenue its last fiscal year came from over 3,300 physical stores, most of which it has closed for weeks.
Gap, based in San Francisco, did not disclose the financial terms of its deal with Kindred, or its base pay for staff, however its e-commerce operation has been a lifeline for sales.
The company said it has around 6,500 warehouse employees, who are receiving higher wages because of the health crisis.