Walmart has entered into a definitive agreement to purchase Alert Innovation, a provider of robotic electronic grocery fulfillment technology. The mass merchant plans to use Alert Innovation’s technology to power Walmart’s 4,700 US store locations as marketplace 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 at Walmart’s first MFC in Salem, New Hampshire. The pilot program was part of Walmart’s broader efforts to explore potential robotic technologies. Walmart also tested other systems in January 2021 with other fulfillment technology providers, including Dematic and Fabric.
Walmart’s robotic workforce fulfillment strategy is taking off. In February 2022, Walmart announced that over the previous 12-month period, online orders placed from its stores increased by 170%.
“Investing more in this technology will allow us to Leverage our store footprint — 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of the US population — for warehousing and fulfillment,” wrote David Guggina, Walmart senior vice president of innovation and automation, Walmart US, in a blog post on the company.
Walmart is ranked #2 in the Top 1000, Digital Commerce 360’s database of the largest online retailers in North America by web sales.
How the Alphabot system works
Alert Innovation develops material handling technology to automate order fulfillment in retail supply chains. Alert Innovation developed the Alphabot system specifically for Walmart. It operates within a 20,000-square-foot warehouse-style space, using autonomous carts to retrieve non-perishable, refrigerated and frozen items for online grocery orders, according to Alert Innovation.
Fully autonomous robots store, retrieve and dispense orders by moving horizontally, laterally and vertically through three temperature zones without using elevators or conveyors. After recovery, the items are brought to a workstation. There, a Walmart associate verifies that the items match the customer’s order, packs the items, and delivers the final order to the customer.
Video from Alertinnovation.com
The system also shares data in real time. Learn as you store items. Technology will get smarter over time. Case in point: 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 rolling out the system company-wide as part of Walmart’s last-mile strategy.
Walmart looks to further automate its omnichannel options
This latest announcement relates to the massive merchant’s efforts to expand its 31 stores and dedicated e-commerce fulfillment centers. 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 logistics center is one of four to feature a new, patent-pending process powered by a combination of human workers, robotics, and machine learning, according to a statement. company press release. . Once completed, Walmart’s four fulfillment centers could provide 75% of the US population with overnight or two-day shipping.
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