Walmart has been piloting an automated online order fulfillment system called Alphabot in a supercenter in Salem, N.H., and the company has high expectations for the improvement in processes that Alphabot will enable.
In a news release, Walmart described Brian Roth, its senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations, as projecting that Alphabot could “fundamentally change Walmart’s online grocery operations.”
“By assembling and delivering orders to associates, Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency,” Roth said in the release. “Ultimately, this will lower dispense times, increase accuracy and improve the entirety of online grocery. And it will help free associates to focus on service and selling, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”
The technology was developed for Walmart by Alert Innovations. The system occupies a 20,000-square foot space and uses autonomous carts to find and deliver to a workstation items from different temperature zones. Once the items have been delivered, an employee checks and finalizes the order.
Produce and other fresh items will continue to be hand-picked, according to the release, but Alphabot is designed to make the retrieval of many other items much more efficient.
“This is going to be a transformative impact to Walmart’s supply chain,” Roth said in the release. “Alphabot is what we think of as micro-fulfillment, an inventive merger of e-commerce and brick and mortar methods.”
The system is expected to get better with time, as the technology recognizes patterns in orders and organizes items accordingly so they can be found and delivered more quickly. In addition, Alphabot is designed so that carts move horizontally and vertically without lifts or conveyors.
Because of that, “there are fewer space constraints to consider, which should make adoption of the system easier across stores,” per the release.
Walmart has been operating Alphabot in Salem since mid-2019, and the company continues to test and adjust the system. After that process and after getting feedback from employees and shoppers, the company will look at “next steps for a broader Alphabot rollout,” per the release.
Kroger and Albertsons are among the other major players in grocery that are making significant investments in automated fulfillment. Kroger has committed hundreds of millions to build 20 automated fulfillment centers with Ocado, and Albertsons recently expanded its partnership with Takeoff Technologies to build micro-fulfillment centers in existing stores.