Ocado, the online grocer that resembles a food version of Amazon, insisted that it plans to grow its human workforce despite the existence of its blueprint to potentially transform its warehouse operations with robots. The statement comes at a time that where it is battling criticism over staff pay.
Ocado is one of Britain’s most exciting tech companies, as it’s racking up massive revenue growth and creating a whole heap of technology that it can hive off and sell on to other businesses should it wish.
Its revenues grew by 20% to nearly £1 billion ($US1.5 billion) in 2014, when it recorded a profit for the first time since it floated on the stock exchange five years ago. Its latest data shows that its group gross sales for the 12 weeks to February 22, soared 19% year-on-year. Ocado also said that average orders per week also rose by 18.1%.
On May 7, Business Insider reported on how Ocado was looking at developing a raft of new warehouse robots to cut costs and increase efficiency, according to a new patent filing.
The system could help the company further reduce the need for human workers inside its vast customer fulfilment centres, where it packages shopping for delivery.
However, Ocado was keen to tell us that it will still grow its human workforce even many may speculate that it will cut down employees in the event of money saving robots being implemented in the supply chain.
“As the only pure-play online grocery retailer, Ocado is always looking for ways to enhance its customer proposition through the development of industry-leading and proprietary technology,” said Ocado in a statement to Business Insider.
“As a result, we file a number of patents each year but we may not choose to utilise everything that we patent. As the business grows in scale, we will continue to grow our workforce with a focus on providing the best and most efficient service to our customers.”
The concerns for Ocado replacing its staff with robots comes at a time when its chairman and former Marks & Spencer boss Lord Rose had to respond to allegations that the company isn’t paying its staff enough.
“We have to balance off what we can afford to do and what is right to do,” said Lord Rose, as documented by the Guardian, at Ocado’s annual shareholder meeting in London on Friday. “[Fair wages are] obviously something that all in society UK today need to be talking and thinking about.”
Campaign group ShareAction called for Ocado to pay its staff the “living wage” in Britain, which works out as £9.15 ($US14.34) an hour in London and £7.85 ($US12.3) across the remaining part of the UK. The “living wage” is calculated as the minimum amount Britons need as an hourly wage to cover the basic cost of living in Britain. This is different from the legal minimum wage in the UK, which is currently £6.50 ($US10.19) an hour for those aged 21 and over.
Ocado stopped short of promising it will raise all wages past the “living wage” threshold but Lord Rose insisted that a “vast majority” of its 8,500 strong workforce were paid above this level. Sources close to Ocado told Business Insider that this number equates to around 90% of its staff.