Fast fashion retailer Tobi turns to speedy robots

Ecommece is approaching a critical juncture: Automate or be left behind. Robotics companies are here to help.

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You can't compete with Amazon without robots in your logistics and fulfillment chain. In an age where virtually every company that sells products online needs to compete with Amazon, we're fast approaching a point where ecommerce companies need to automate or they'll be left behind.

Helping those companies is a new generation of quickly deployable logistics and fulfillment robots, many offered under Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) models. Designed to plug into existing fulfillment warehouses without significant setup or downtime, the robots have brought a needed measure of speed and efficiency to speed up delivery times for companies that aren't run by Jeff Bezos.

The latest example, announced today, is fast fashion retailer Tobi, which is adding cloud-based picker robots from inVia Robotics to its Reno fulfillment warehouse. 

"We found that in order to compete and continue to wow our customers we needed automation to deliver," says Kenneth Chan, founder and CEO of Tobi. "inVia provided the best solution to increase order efficiency and accuracy. The robotics expertise the inVia team has brought into our operations has been one of the most valuable aspects of the deployment. They have treated our business like it's theirs and let us dedicate our resources to our core competency of delivering fast fashion to our customers."

Tobi's story is familiar, and it's a use case other digital-native companies will pay attention to. The retailer needed a bolt-on automated system, one that could be added overnight to boost order efficiency without a long ramp-up. 

Even a couple years ago that kind of ask untenable. Adding robots to a line has traditionally meant significant downtime for tooling and adjustment. But companies like inVia, along with other players in the space like Fetch, Locus, and ZenRobotics, are making it surprisingly easy to add robots for picking and materials transport to existing lines. The robots are highly flexible, and the companies that make them pitch themselves as automation partners, meaning they take pains to help with setup. It also means there's no on-staff engineer required. 

"Warehouse automation is a competitive advantage for e-commerce retailers operating in a crowded space," says Lior Elazary, founder and CEO of inVia Robotics. "inVia's innovative AI- driven technology will optimize picking and cycle counting for Tobi and automate repetitive warehouse tasks, so their people can focus on delighting their customers."

With ecommerce sales increasing by as much as 14.3 percent (±4.4%) year over year, but margins remaining razor thin, there's clearly plenty of room for robotics companies like inVia to bring mid-sized retailers in the Amazon age. In the case of Tobi, using inVia's robots to optimize workflows is expected to double throughput, according to both companies.