Posts Tagged amazon

Employees vs. Robots

I was reading an article that appeared in Tuesday’s USAToday with the headline – “Amazon puts 15,000 robots to work on Cyber Monday”. 15,000?!?! The Kiva Systems robots do tasks that historically have been done by some number of Amazons 88,400 employees. Robots picking products that are purchased online by consumers that then need to be shipped to them from Amazon fulfillment centers across the globe cost some number of people jobs. Using Kiva robots obviously provides great value to Amazon shareholders since they don’t require a human resource department to oversee payroll, other benefits such as medical and dental plans, vacation days, sick days, etc.. But this can’t be good for union and hourly workers.

Automation Robots vs People

 

Robots are obviously taking over or facilitating any number of manual jobs that historically have been done by employees. Amazon’s use of robots brings the product(s) ordered online and stored in shelf bins to a packer for shipping. Once the purchased item is delivered to the packer the robot returns the shelf bin back to where it belongs awaiting the next task. These robots have certainly saved Amazon the cost of workers who provided this service. The article says that Amazon spent $ 775 million for the Kiva robots and that, “The robots are part of a complex software and hardware system that simplifies picking and packing at warehouses that contain literally millions of items.” The article doesn’t mention that each robot, and the systems that supports them, cost an average of $ 51,667. Payscale.com estimates that the average Amazon employee salary cost is in a range of $ 50,098 – $ 122,195. After Amazon’s initial investment in the Kiva robots there would be ongoing costs for maintenance, repairs, replacements and of course those whose job it is to manage the 15,000 robots, but Amazon obviously did all the internal analysis and studies to see that the return on investment was well worth the $ 775 million.

The advent of using robots isn’t new, but with robots taking over responsibilities of human pickers at Amazon and the use of robots across countless industries and companies the potential loss of unskilled or low skill jobs could be devastating. Taking place at the same time is the strong push by some city and state governments to increase the minimum wage through legislation. Somehow there seems to be a potential disconnect.

Redwood.com compiled a report titled “The Top 10 Reasons Businesses Demand Enterprise-Level Automation”. Reason #2 in this report is:

“Happy and Productive Employees

Automated tasks keep people—who can get bored or irritated by doing repetitive tasks—free from drudgery. It also liberates them to do more strategic and valuable activities for the company. Automation lies at the core of all of our modern conveniences. Machines are made to do repetitive, boring tasks—without complaining.”

You can see where the use of robots and/or automation that is rapidly taking over or helping employees in their jobs providing cost reductions and greater shareholder value for companies who utilize them, but I’m guessing that most employees would prefer being “bored or irritated” and not “free from drudgery” versus not having a job. Certainly there are countless jobs that won’t be taken over by robots, but is your job completely safe from being replaced by a robot so that you can be freed to do something else? I’m guessing the Amazon employees that were picking products for packing at one time thought so.

If you’re a business owner or in management with responsibility for delivering shareholder value you have to continually be looking for ways to cut costs and increase value just as Amazon has done. There are countless jobs that aren’t going to be replaced by robots, but are there robots that can help you improve the productivity of your employees making their jobs easier and provide greater shareholder value? As companies compete against each other for business at a local, regional, national or international basis; looking for the slightest advantage against industry competitors the answer has to be yes. What are you doing to take any advantage available and ensure that you continue to grow and prosper in your industry?

Just sayin’.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

www.usatoday.com

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/12/01/robots-amazon-kiva-fulfillment-centers-cyber-monday/19725229/

www.kivasystems.com

http://www.kivasystems.com/about-us-the-kiva-approach/

www.amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Locations-Careers/b?ie=UTF8&node=239366011

http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Careers-Homepage/b?node=239367011

www.payscale.com

http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Employer=Amazon.com_Inc/Salary#by_Yearly_Sales

www.wikipedia.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pick_and_pack

www.Redwood.com

“The Top 10 Reasons Businesses Demand Enterprise-Level Automation”

 

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Just Sayin’ Blog – The American Dream and Garages

Have you seen the General Motors (GM) commercial selling the new electric 2014 Cadillac ELR? Interestingly you actually don’t know what the commercial is selling until the very end. When I started to watch it (click on this link to view) I recognized the voice of FX television show Justified bad guy Robert Quarles played by Neal McDonough. McDonough also appeared in the great film “Band of Brothers” portraying 1st Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton who passed away in 2012. The commercial begins with our seeing from behind Mr. McDonough standing facing a swimming pool dressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirt in what could be a Southern California back yard. The actor starts out asking:

“Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff? Other countries that work stroll home; stop by the café and take August off. Off! Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that?“

Six quick questions and two statements set up the commercial. McDonough is then shown walking through his home pointing to his two daughters; then high-fiving one of the girls:

“Because we’re crazy hard working believers that’s why.”

“Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever…”

Next he’s seen walking down a hallway heading to the kitchen where he passes a newspaper off to his wife and continues his trek through his nice home.

“Were the Wright Brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there and left the keys in it. Do you know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there that’s why.”

Mr. McDonough walks into an opening and then re-emerges dressed in a business suit and walks out of the house to his Cadillac ELR. He then delivers the overriding message, besides selling the ELR of course:

“But I digress. It’s pretty simple. You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

As for all the stuff. That’s the upside to only taking just two weeks off in August.”

“N’est pas?” (The French expression impossible n’est pas français is actually a proverb, equivalent to “there’s no such thing as can’t” or simply “nothing is impossible.”)

One heck of a great commercial in my opinion delivering the message of the American Dream being available to anyone and more importantly owning a Cadillac ELR of course. Wikipedia defines the American Dream as, “a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.” Sounds right.

The commercial clearly points out that you’ve got to work hard to get all the “stuff” you see from the beginning to the end of the commercial. No one is going to give it to you. Pointing out in a very quintessential American way the commercial finishes with “N’est pas?” – a French proverb meaning “there is no such thing as can’t”. Words to live by. The owner of Cadillac is GM and as everyone remembers the company went into and out of bankruptcy protection during the summer of 2009. In a way the commercial was an analogy of all that GM and countless thousands of dedicated employees accomplished – “You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.” Granted they also did it with the help of $ 50.1 billion from U.S. taxpayers….

The commercial hasn’t necessarily been greeted all that well by the some in the media as they view it as American being arrogant, but the very simple message in the ad is that if you want you can own a Cadillac as long as you work hard and do what you do well. Simple message.

This commercial follows one aired earlier this year from Cadillac called “American Garages” (click here to view). The commercial is pointing out the value of Motor Trend’s Car of the Year – the 2014 Cadillac CTS. Mr. McDonough does the voiceover for this commercial telling us:

“The Wright Brothers started in a garage. Amazon started in a garage. Hewlett-Packard and Disney both started out in garages. Mattel started in a garage. The Ramones’s started in a garage. My point? Some of the most innovating things in the world come out of American garages.”

This commercial finishes with “Ain’t garages great!” Indeed they are. I know many auto glass repair and replacement (AGRR) companies that started out in a single garage.

It has been a long time since I’ve owned a GM product (a 1985 Chevrolet Station-wagon) and I don’t have plans on buying one anytime soon, but these two commercials celebrate what America is all about and why people from across the globe continually come to our shores. The opportunity to try like hell to catch the American Dream by working hard and then anything is possible, especially owning a Cadillac. Plenty of people work hard and then haven’t accomplished what they most wanted as their own American Dream, but it’s all about the opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed.

Don’t let any company or anyone keep you from whatever may be your American Dream.

You work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

Just sayin’.

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ZIP Code based pricing

About a month ago on November 14, 2011, Nydia Han (link), a television news reporter for the local ABC Channel 6 Television affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia, reported on that station’s nightly news program about the auto glass replacement pricing by zip code strategy that, according to the station, Safelite® Auto Glass was utilizing in the local market.  It was certainly interesting and entertaining to watch the 4+ minute “Action News Investigation” segment that Ms. Han presented on the television stations ABC News Channel 6 “Special Report” (link).  During the segment she asked this question:

“Is it fair for a company to charge you more for its services based on where you live?” 

ABC Channel 6 visited a Safelite® store location in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, asking about replacing a windshield and reported that they were told – “So book it online” – by the store.  She did just that by getting on a computer and going to the Safelite® “Get a quote” web page. It was there that she found that she first had to put in a zip code as required by Safelite® in addition to other required fields detailing the make, model and year of the car; along with the piece of glass she wanted quoted.  Based on her report she then started to put in a number of different zip codes in the area serviced by Safelite®.  Ms. Han reported that what she found was that “for the SAME windshield replacement on the SAME car at the SAME Safelite® shop” she got a number of different prices, depending upon the zip code used for the quote.  She reported that the prices varied about $ 80 for the same windshield replacement on the same car and the question she asked was does that pricing strategy model seem fair to consumers?

Based on the television stations investigation and report, the director of Philadelphia’s Consumer Affairs Lance Haver believes that it is not.  As Mr. Haver said in the report:

“It’s just wrong.  There is no two ways about it.  This is just wrong.  It should be one price for everyone; it shouldn’t depend upon where you live and how much they can gouge out of you.”

So why did Safelite® use zip code pricing?  Their spokesperson Melina Metzger was quoted in a glassBYTEs® article¹ as offering the following in response to WPVI’s investigative report saying:

“Pricing strategies are confidential.  This is a case of an investigative journalist attempting to create scandal where there is none.

Like all businesses, Safelite uses a dynamic consumer pricing model that fluctuates based on many variables, such as what other competitors the customer might choose to repair or replace your vehicle glass, the availability of a technician in [an] area, and the availability of the right part in [an] area. At Safelite, we believe our consumer pricing model to be fair and offer value.”

Okay, Safelite® certainly has the right to use any pricing model it would like to achieve its goals as does any other company.  It is an interesting model when someone on one side of a street who has the same car as someone on the other side of the street can be charged different amounts for the same item quoted and installed by the same store.  But in Safelite’s® defense, doesn’t every company have the right to price its products and services anyway it wants?  Even if the same store location actually does the work and/or those two different people in two different zip codes who might live across the street are sent the same installer to do the work on the same year, make and model of car?

I looked at a number of other auto glass repair and replacement retailers operating in a variety of markets as Safelite® and each of the retailer web sites I visited asked for a variety of customer information along with details of the car and what glass was needed to be replaced.  The web sites I looked at asked for zip codes only to determine what store was closest to the customer.  None offered quotes online.  Each of those web sites also said that a customer service representative would be in touch via email or the telephone to follow up on the quote request from the customer.

Then I visited a number of other web based auto glass replacement quoting sites.  Each of the web sites I visited requested zip code information (In all fairness to them it appeared that none of the ones I looked at actually operated auto glass shops themselves and were aggregators selling customer replacement opportunities to others who would do the replacements).  Those sites require the zip code in order to know where the customer asking for a quote for auto glass replacement service is located. This is so that the web site can make contact with the appropriate retailer(s) who will actually be doing the work for their price quote.

I’m not sure what other businesses use zip codes in pricing models, but since I had some spare time I did a little unscientific survey of local Chicago area businesses where I live by walking around to a number of Walgreens Drug Store locations in different zip codes in the downtown Chicago area where I did a store-by-store price comparison on a variety of non auto glass products.  For my very unscientific survey I chose three different products

  1. a 7.8 ounce tube of Crest® Pro Health Fluoride Toothpaste Clean Mint ($ 4.99),
  2. a 6 ounce box of my personal favorite GOOD & PLENTY® Licorice Candy ($ 1.59),
  3. and a 100 count bottle of Genuine Bayer® Aspirin 325 mg Pain Reliever ($ 6.79).

Granted those retail items aren’t even remotely close to windshields, but I did say my survey was unscientific so I took some latitude.  Anyway, I found that with all of the Walgreen stores that I visited in my survey area, the prices were actually the same for each of the products surveyed.  I also checked their online web site where I found prices were the same. 

I then extended my survey to a few other online web sites.  I visited two very popular retail web sites called Amazon® and the iTunes® Store.  Neither asked for my zip code to determine pricing for the products I checked.

One last observation I made when visiting the Safelite® “Get a quote” web page.  I found it interesting and wondered why they asked the question:

“Are you thinking of filing an insurance claim?” 

If you respond – yes – you’re then asked to provide the name of your auto insurance company from a long alphabetized drop down listing.  Under that drop-down box there is a statement:

Asking your insurance provider about your policy coverage and deductible is not considered filing a claim in most cases. We can help you with information regarding your insurance coverage. (You can always change your mind before your appointment.)”.

It was easy getting a quote when I didn’t say that it was an insurance claim.  It wasn’t as easy when I answered that I was filing an insurance claim.  Do you think that the price would be the same if you said it was for insurance versus if it wasn’t for insurance?  I was just wondering and I’m…..

Just sayin’………

 

1  Articles reporting on Ms. Han’s ABC Television affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia’s report that appeared in glassBYTEs® Auto Glass and Insurance Industry News on November 15, 2011, and on November 16, 2011.

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