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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce gargantuan, has built a big new Shanghai fulfillment center that can organize, pack and ship 200,000 orders a day. It employs four people — all of whom service the robots.

What's going on: Welcome to the creeping new age of automation. When the talk turns to Chinese big tech — rivals to Google, Amazon and the rest of Silicon Valley — the names usually cited are Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. But scrappy JD, with a respectable $58 billion market cap, is investing aggressively to be added to the pantheon.

Its secret sauce, executives said this week in Beijing and Shanghai, is logistics — its creation of China's first east-to-west, north-to-south package delivery business, able to deliver a purchase the same day almost anywhere in the nation, as long as it's ordered by 11 a.m.

But to get faster and more reliable, just as important is automation: From smart warehouses that process orders, to self-driving trucks and drones to deliver them, JD's research and development team is working on ways to eliminate costly workers.

Why it matters: This is the future. Like JD, its fierce e-commerce rival Alibaba has also built an entirely automated warehouse, showing how retail will probably be done in years to come everywhere including the U.S. and Europe.

  • JD says its objective is not to eliminate workers but to get faster and more reliable, and that it will shift its warehouse people to other jobs.
  • Its new mantra is "retail as a service," in which it will sell the efficient methods it's developed to other companies.

The rap on JD has been that it is far less profitable than Alibaba. But JD responds that, as Jeff Bezos expanded Amazon, its logistics buildout is proof it is investing in itself.

  • "Everything is about scale," says CTO Chen Zhang, speaking with a small group of reporters at its Beijing headquarters.
  • "When you invest in technology, you don't worry about spending money. You worry whether you can get to scale. When scale comes, profit will come."

Get more stories like this by signing up for our twice-weekly robotics, AI and labor newsletter, Axios Future. 

Go deeper

14 mins ago - Technology

3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Rising rates may hammer the stock market

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Stocks are much more vulnerable to interest rate swings than they used to be.

Why it matters: A sharp rise in rates in early 2022 is the key reason the stock market is off to an ugly start. And with the Federal Reserve making noise about trying to keep inflation in check, rates could go higher.

Ina Fried, author of Login
59 mins ago - Technology

Microsoft's Activision Blizzard deal complicates Big Tech regulation

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Microsoft's surprise $68 billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard is adding a fresh twist to the heated debate over which tech companies have monopolies that need to be reined in.

The big picture: The deal could force a question the company has happily ducked for a decade: whether its size and power make it just as deserving of regulatory scrutiny as its Big Tech rivals.

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