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Supply Chain News: eCommerce Platform Shopify Acquires Mobile Robot Maker 6 Rivers


Shades of Amazon and Kiva, though Shopify will Sell 6 River Robots to Other Shippers

Sept. 11, 2019
SCDigest Editorial Staff

In 2012, Amazon somewhat shocked the distribution world when it announced it was acquiring Kiva Systems – maker of the orange mobile robot picking system that ushered in the “goods to picker” concept – for the giant sum of $770 million.

Supply Chain Digest Says...

Shopify currently nothing like the scale Amazon had even in 2012 when it effectively took the Kiva system off the market.

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Amazon never fully divulged the strategy behind the rather unusual move of a shipper buying outright a technology vendor. Speculation was that either Amazon wanted to keep the Kiva system away from competitors such as, and/or wanted to lock up all of Kiva’s production and deployment capacity for some period of time.

Since the acquisition, Amazon has deployed more than 100,000 Kiva robots across its fulfillment network.

Then in April, Amazon announced it was acquiring another mobile robot maker, Canvas Technology out of Boulder, CO, for an undisclosed sum.

Did Amazon start a trend?

Maybe so, with news this week that Shopify, which is primarily an ecommerce platform, has acquired 6 River Systems, yet another provider of mobile robots for distribution.

The purchase price is reported to be a significant $450 million, in a combination of cash and stock. That even as Shopify estimated that 6 River Systems will have annual revenues of only about $30 million in 2020.

In June, Shopify introduced the Shopify Fulfillment Network, a fulfillment network intended to offer timely deliveries, lower shipping costs, and improve customer experience for merchants and their customers.

In other words, the goal was to be a sort of mini-Amazon for etailers using its ecommerce front end.

The 6 River mobile robots will apparently be an important part of that fulfillment network capabilities. However, Shopify made clear that 6 River would continue to sell and deploy its robots to other companies besides Shopify.

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That makes sense, as Shopify currently nothing like the scale Amazon had even in 2012 when it effectively took the Kiva system off the market.

What is interesting about that is it led one Kiva customer, a 3PL named Quiet Logistics, to design its own mobile robot solution, now the pretty well known Locus Robotics. 6 River to an extent is an offshoot of the Locus solutions, with led by former executives from Kiva.

"Shopify is taking on fulfillment the same way we’ve approached other commerce challenges, by bringing together the best technology to help everyone compete," said Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify. "With 6 River Systems, we will bring technology and operational efficiencies to companies of all sizes around the world."


What's your take on Shopify's acquisition of 6 River? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.




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