Walmart signed a definitive agreement to buy Alert Innovation, a robotics e-grocery fulfillment technology provider. The mass merchant plans to use Alert Innovation’s technology to power Walmart’s 4,700 U.S-based store locations as market fulfillment centers (MFCs) for online orders. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Alert Innovation began its relationship with Walmart in 2016. In late 2019, the mass merchant piloted Alert Innovation’s Alphabot System in Walmart’s first MFC in Salem, New Hampshire. The pilot program was part of Walmart’s wider efforts to explore possible robotics technologies. Walmart also piloted other systems in January 2021 with other fulfillment technology providers, including Dematic and Fabric.
Walmart’s robot-staffed fulfillment strategy is taking off. In February 2022, Walmart announced that for the prior 12-month period, online orders fulfilled from its stores increased 170%.
“Further investing in this technology will enable us to leverage our store footprint — 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population — for storage and fulfillment,” wrote David Guggina, Walmart senior vice president of innovation and automation, Walmart U.S., in a company blog post.
Walmart ranks No. 2 in the Top 1000, Digital Commerce 360’s database of the largest North American online retailers by web sales.
How the Alphabot System works
Alert Innovation develops material-handling technology for automating order fulfillment in retail supply chains. Alert Innovation developed the Alphabot System specifically for Walmart. It operates inside a 20,000 square-foot warehouse-style space, using autonomous carts to retrieve shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen items for online grocery orders, according to Alert Innovation.
The fully autonomous robots store, retrieve and dispense orders by moving horizontally, laterally and vertically across three temperature zones without using lifts or conveyors. After retrieval, the items are then brought to a workstation. There, a Walmart associate checks that the items match up to the customer order, bags the items and delivers the final order to the customer.
Video from Alertinnovation.com
The system also shares data in real-time. It learns as it stocks items. The technology will become more intelligent over time. One example of that: The technology is expected to learn how to substitute items to reduce the volume of out-of-stock notices customers receive. The pilot system at the Salem, New Hampshire, location will continue to serve as a test location. Walmart plans to continue to improve and make adjustments before implementing the system company-wide as part of Walmart’s last-mile strategy.
Walmart seeks to further automate its omnichannel options
This latest announcement ties into the mass merchant’s efforts to expand its 31 dedicated ecommerce fulfillment centers and stores. In June 2022, Walmart announced plans to build four next generation fulfillment centers (FCs) over the next three years.
The first of these opened in Joliet, Illinois, in September 2022. This new fulfillment center is one of four that will feature a new patent-pending process powered by a combination of human workers, robotics and machine learning, according to a company press release. Once completed, the four fulfillment centers for Walmart could provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping.
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