Full disclosure: I used to work for Amazon (AMZN.Q) as one of their machine-grunts. That’s why when Shopify (SHOP.NYSE) acquired warehouse fulfillment company, 6 Rivers Systems, yesterday for $450 million, I had to take a closer look.

I have nothing but respect for the good people navigating the byzantine internal workings of that totalitarian behemoth everyday, but the same isn’t true bout the company itself. Their stifling micromanagement of every single minute of your day is absolutely toxic, as their high turnover rate demonstrates.

What immediately stands out about 6 Rivers is they use robots and software to fulfill orders, instead of severely underpaid and undertrained stress-cases in rickety old class 2 powered industrial trucks (PIT).

One of the biggest issues for workers at Amazon are in locating where the packages are stored, scanning them in the right order, and either delivering or retrieving them. That doesn’t sound so bad when taken in isolation, but when your quota (and your job) depends on being able to do that 81 times an hour, it can get hectic. Most people can’t take it. The smart leave while the desperate get fired.

And then there’s this guy:


Not all heroes wear capes. | Source: giphy.com

Suspended in an unstable cage 40 feet in the air you have a lot of time to contemplate your life choices.

You think things like: This is my life and it’s ending one box at a time. Then you look at your scan-gun to see if management has summoned you to the desk to account for the mistakes you’ve made, or how under quota you may be, or maybe the last five minutes you haven’t scanned anything while you were busy tuning out. Or the bathroom break you took.

And they don’t tell you what’s going to happen to your health during orientation, either.

Not being on stable ground for ten hours a day throws off your inner-ear equilibrium, and the first few steps off of the PIT used to zoom between the aisles at the Amazon warehouse can be jarring. I’d wake up in a panic in the middle of the night, grasping the sheets of my bed, terrified that I was going to fall out of the cage.

Under these conditions, sick days and paid-time off vanish quickly and that can’t be good for productivity. But by that time you don’t care. You just want to get your time in and get out, and maybe drink enough to avoid the shaky-cage nightmare.

Workers at 6 Rivers don’t have to worry about that.

Here’s what 6 River does differently:

The 6 River Systems solution is powered by robots (we call them Chucks) and cloud-based software. Chuck communicates with the software to coordinate all the work on your floor. The result? A fleet of Chucks working seamlessly and collaboratively with your associates to boost three key warehouse operations: induct, picking and takeoff.

Workers stay at end stations and feed Chuck packages, which Chuck then takes to other workers. No more PIT. No more shaky cage nightmares. No more near-misses because of faulty locked-up rear-wheel steering on a gummed-up track.

Presumably, Jerome Dubois, the CEO of 6 Rivers knows all about what it’s like to be a worker at Amazon. He and his leadership team bring decades of experience in fulfillment operations and robotics from their time at Kiva Systems, which is now known as Amazon Robotics.

“By joining Shopify, we’re changing the game of fulfillment. Together, we will help thousands of businesses improve their fulfillment operations, with an easy-to-learn solution that can more than double productivity and improve accuracy,” said Jerome Dubois, co-CEO and co-founder of 6 River Systems.

Good. It’s about time Amazon had some real competition.

—Joseph Morton

Written By:

Joseph Morton

Joseph is a Vancouver-based author and journalist with both a communications degree and journalism diploma (and a few novels) under his belt. His joie de vivre is to spin difficult technical topics into more human-centric narratives. Buy him a coffee and he'll talk your ear off for hours about privacy issues, blockchain, cryptocurrency and martial arts. Don't talk to him if you're either a tomato, a bully, or if you're not a fan of either 1984 or Tender is the Night. No. You can still talk to him. Just be prepared to be told why you're wrong.

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