Ecommerce distribution centers look markedly different than they did just a few years ago. A growing number of retailers are leveraging picking, packing and delivery robots to automate key tasks—and the shift may be just getting started.

More than 50,000 warehouses worldwide are expected to include commercial robotics by 2025. That would be a dramatic jump from the 4,000 in existence in 2018, according to market research firm ABI Research. In the United States alone, there are expected to be roughly 23,000 robot-powered warehouses in operation by 2025, up from 2,500 today in 2018.

1219_IR_DigitalEdition_BlastCoverEcommerce’s growing market share—and the push to deliver consumers’ online orders the same day or next day after a shopper places an order—is helping drive that growth, says Nick Finill, senior analyst at ABI. Retailers’ growing needs also help explain why the number of fulfillment-related jobs jumped 41% between 2018 and 2015 to 1.2 million warehousing and storage jobs from 785,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That growth has come amid a tightening labor market as the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6% in October from 5.5% in January 2015.

Those conditions have driven retailers, such as Gap and Best Buy (both featured in this article) to deploy the latest generation of sophisticated robotics. Those robots can handle a range of tasks—from autonomous mobile robots that can transport inventory to articulated robotic arms that can manipulate items to automated storage and retrieval robots that retrieve items for use. And many are ideally suited to ecommerce fulfillment, Finill says.

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