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Mayank Marwah
Mayank Marwah
Articles (769) 

Walmart Introduces Warehouse Robots to Speed Up Online Grocery Sales

Retailer looks forward to providing a grocery drive-thru experience using the Alphabot system

January 13, 2020 | About:

On Jan. 8, Walmart (NYSE:WMT) introduced the Alphabot, which is an automated 20,000 square foot fulfilment system that integrates human labour and robot speed in order to make grocery pickup service faster and more efficient.

Bird’s-eye view

Prior to the new model, the manner of managing order fulfilment was highly labor intensive. Therefore, the introduction of robot technology in online sales fulfilment was perhaps inevitable.

The Alphabot is an automated warehouse that combines the efforts of humans and a fleet of robots towards efficient online grocery sales fulfilment. The Alphabot’s robots, which are two feet wide, gather the products around the warehouse at a faster pace as compared to human workers. These robots can pick more than 800 products in an hour and are thus approximately 10 times more efficient than a human warehouse worker (the average human warehouse worker can gather approximately 80 products per hour). The robots will collect the products and deliver them to the employees at a pickup station, who would then deliver them to the customers after packing them. Walmart’s senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations, Brian Roth, said:

“This is going to be a transformative impact to Walmart’s supply chain. Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency.”

Looking ahead, the company is planning to implement a move where the Alphabot system would deliver the products directly to the customer’s car, thereby creating a grocery drive-thru experience. Walmart Senior Vice President Tom Ward said, “We will continue to grow this aggressively. You cannot grow by picking one order in one shopping cart at a time.”

Alphabot, however, is still a hybrid system, which is both robot-driven and managed by humans. The human workers equip the Alphabot machines daily with the most frequently ordered online items. In addition, fresh produce is still hand–picked by human workers in the store.

Walmart has surpassed the online behemoth Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) in the U.S. grocery delivery market courtesy of the move. According to a latest survey by The Retail Feedback Group, 37% of customers opted for Walmart for online grocery orders while 29% of the shoppers went for Amazon and other traditional supermarkets.

Walmart has clearly stepped up its game in the online grocery business after having seen peaks and valleys in the e-commerce sector.

Conclusion

Consumers are increasingly making more online groceries purchases, with the expectation of quick service, whether it be home delivery or pick-up in store. This adds pressure on warehouse management, given that the ordered groceries have to be identified, made ready and be delivered within one to two hours. Fulfilment speed has become an extremely crucial factor amid rising competition between grocers. Robots can help save time in the process and improve efficiency.

Disclosure: I do not hold any positions in the stocks mentioned.

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About the author:

Mayank Marwah
A seasoned writer with keen interest in the automotive, technology, telecommunication, retail and aerospace sectors.

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