Should Retailers Be Worried About Amazon's Kiva Deal?

When Amazon on Monday (March 19) announced its $775 million cash deal to buy Kiva, a popular robot automation fulfillment center player, it put many of its existing retail clients in a bind. This includes current Kiva clients—Walgreens and Saks, among others—plus other recent (and possibly current) customers, such as Gap, Crate & Barrel, Staples, Dillard's, Toys'R'Us and Office Depot. How will all of them feel about systems in their warehouses—which know everything about product flow and, even worse, can control speed, accuracy and efficiency of product flow—being owned and controlled by Amazon, a direct rival? Granted, Amazon would have to be crazy to risk being caught using that information or deliberately slowing down operations. But will the latest technology get shared quickly? Or will Amazon hold onto it for extensive testing in its own warehouses?

And what about the psychological impact of having execs at Walgreens or Toys'R'Us having to write checks to Amazon (or to a Kiva account, fully owned by Amazon)? The devices themselves are impressive little robots, capable of carrying a half-ton of products and knowing where to fetch and where to return. For any sci-fi fans out there, we're talking about intelligent powerful robots controlled by a corporate empire and working in the inner operations of its rivals. What could possibly go wrong?

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