Is Walmart’s Alphabot what the future of e-grocery fulfillment will look like?
Grocery giant Walmart is implementing an automated, robotic mini-warehouse to help better manage its e-commerce fulfillment.
The solution – Alphabot – is an 8,000-square-foot unit housed within a 20,000-square-foot space built onto the back of a Walmart Supercenter in Salem, NH, CNBC reports.
When customers place an order online, Alphabot retrieves uses autonomous carts to retrieve products. Robots assemble orders and then send them to a human associate to check order accuracy, bag them and complete their delivery. Alphabot will manage all shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen products, but fresh products will continue to be picked by Walmart associates.
The Alphabot test has been in place since the middle of last year and Walmart plans to improve the service with an eye towards a broader rollout. Walmart does not foresee the warehouse becoming a feature in every store but possibly having one mini-warehouse supporting customers in the service area of multiple Walmart locations. The retailer has two new Alphabot-enabled warehouses planned, both of which will be smaller than the Salem test location.
Walmart is not the only major grocer in the U.S. with plans to use robotic warehouses as a way to speed up picking and packing to better manage e-grocery.
Last year, Kroger announced plans to build 20 robotic warehouses for this purpose. Its facilities are operated by Ocado, which made a name for itself in the U.K. as a standalone e-grocer with no physical presence outside of its automated fulfillment warehouses. Ocado then launched a partnership with U.K. grocer Morrisons and, later, with Sobeys in Canada before beginning to work with Kroger stateside.
One major difference between Ocado fulfillment centers and Walmart’s Alphabot solution is the size. Ocado’s warehouses tend to span hundreds of thousands of feet. The one that Kroger announced will open in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, its sixth planned Ocado facility, will be 350,000 square feet, according to Supermarket News. The facility will prospectively be open within 24 months.
Startups have also gotten in on the act with a few vendors last year announcing turnkey automated micro-warehouse solutions.
- Walmart just unveiled a new technology that could help defend its position as America’s largest grocer – CNBC
- Will robotic fulfillment centers reshape Kroger’s business? – RetailWire
- Does Sobeys deal mean the U.S. is next for Ocado? – RetailWire
- Kroger names location for sixth Ocado warehouse – Supermarket News
- Is robotic micro-fulfillment the path to streamlined grocery pickup? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is Walmart’s plan to expand its pilot of the Alphabot an indication of how important automation will be to other e-commerce grocers? What might be the downside of robotic mini-warehouse technology, and how can grocers justify the investment?