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Boots gets Cyber Weekend help from 'collaborative robots'

Health and beauty retailer Boots has revealed it deployed 135 robots in its Burton warehouse in the build up to Black Friday and over the course of Cyber Weekend.

The so-called “cobots” – or collaborative robots – are still in action today (2 December) as the Black Friday deals continue into the first week of December.

Boots said the technology supported its staff by carrying orders between picking stations, cutting down the distance people working in the warehouse had to walk while also reportedly improving productivity.

Last week, the retailer estimated it would experience six times the average number of orders per week during the period between Thursday 21 November and Monday 2 December. Colleagues in 300 of its stores have been picking goods for online orders to support the rise in demand from customers at Boots.com.

Staff issued the cobots with names such as 'Hal', 'Botty McBot Face', and 'Seb', in honour (or perhaps not!) of Boots UK & Ireland’s senior vice president and managing director, Seb James.

Alan Penhale, interim supply chain director at Boots UK, said the cobot colleagues were in place to help with picking an expected three million items over a two-week period.

“Our warehouse team absolutely love the cobots – who have all been given names,” he explained.

“They make the warehouse a calmer, more productive place and are also 2-3 times faster than manually pushing trolleys long distances, saving our teams from having to walk quite as far.”

CEO, James. and Boots UK & Ireland's director of eCommerce & digital retail transformation, Sophie Neary, issued semi-regular updates related to trading performance on Black Friday, via their personal Twitter accounts.

Neary said at one stage Boots was receiving three orders a second, as consumers logged on to the website to access a range of deals.