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Mind the gap – Ocado’s brave new world and Mothercare’s eastern promise


I doubt very much that anyone reading this can remember the post-WWII era that saw the breakthrough in labour-saving devices. But since then, there’s been an explicit promise where technology is concerned – it will save us all time and effort. In fact, it goes back hundreds of years before then, but I didn’t want to get bogged down with detail around mill owners, mill workers, luddites, spinning jennies and so on. Not today, anyway.
It’s sometimes all too easy to be cynical about technology though. Has it really lived up to all the hype? Well, probably not. But that’s a matter of putting hype into context more than it is figuring out whether you think technology has been beneficial. Which, of course, it has on the whole.

Grocery delivery firm Ocado has a tech division – Ocado Technology – which is in the process of developing a robot that can be put to use in warehouse environments. One presumes the plan is to make more than one, if the good folk of Ocado are happy with the way it turns out. Unlike other aspects of automation though, even at this early stage, this idea is being pitched as something to assist the human workforce, not replace it. The Ocadobot won’t be handling anyone’s food shopping, but instead is being developed as a mechanoid assistant to move equipment, handle tools, and so on.

It’s an interesting take on the automation investment conundrum – don’t replace people with machines, help them.

It is, of course, way too soon to predict the viability of this kind of robot. But should it make economic sense, this could become one of those fault lines that starts to open up a gap between leaders and followers.

Another leading retailer making headway through technology investment is Mothercare. The nation’s favourite parents-and-children retailer appointed a new CEO last July, and – as eDelivery reported in November 2014 just as we were launching – has a vision for the future that involves international growth and a ‘digital first’ strategy.

Last year it started using a warehouse management system from PeopleVox in its Irish division, which went down so well it is now being used to underpin Mothercare’s expansion in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.

Elsewhere on eDelivery, we have details of earlybird registration discounts for eDelivery Conference in October (hint: get your skates on, you’ve got until the end of the month before the prices go up!).

We also have a Q&A session with Stuart Hill, CEO of wnDirect, who shares his views on the ecommerce sector, and tells us a bit about the international delivery business he helped set up.

Following last week’s look at the news of Royal Mail’s government-held shares being sold off, we have some readers’ opinions on the subject, which we’ve published for you here.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to eDelivery why don’t you embrace change and go and do that right now? You’ll get our weekly newsletter summarising the main stories we’ve covered, and we’ll keep you informed of other big announcements, but we won’t spam you – that’s not how we stroll. You’ll find details on that here.

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