In a tie-up with Alert Innovation, Walmart is ready to deploy an automated system ‘Alphabot’ in its superstore located in Salem, New Hampshire. The robotic system will run trials in a 20,000 square-feet store extension cum grocery pick-up point with drive-thru lanes for customers. The motive behind Walmart’s association with robotics is to test if the turnaround time of processing online orders can be made faster. The high-speed robotic system ‘Alphabot’ collects a wide variety of items including frozen, refrigerated and dry items from the storage and brings to the Walmart’s store staff. The store staff then picks and assembles customers’ orders. That way the personal shoppers can be empowered to be more interactive, efficient and only focus on handpicking select items such as fresh produce.
This service is slated to become beneficial for busy consumers who can’t spare the time to grocery shop and for those who would like to dodge high-priced grocery delivery services like Instacart and Shipt. This experimentation is one of the ways for Walmart to strategize its grocery delivery in the midst of stiff competition from Amazon/Whole foods. Walmart confirmed that it aims to establish delivery services in one hundred markets by year-end and now works with assorted delivery partners including Doordash, Postmates, and Deliv, while delivery partnerships with Uber and Lyft have been terminated.
The distribution setup in Walmart is now much wider with grocery pickup services going up from 600 to 1,200 in the last 2 years and a plan to add 1,000 more stores by 2018. Currently, there are 1,800 stores offering grocery pick up services.
Automation means taking care of even critical details such as expiry dates on the labels while picking up and Alphabot is expected to handle such points of human error. The effective grocery-picking process not only means multiple benefits to customers but also means the efficiency of Walmart in improvising the system of the online order process. The whole idea is to be delivery ready and cut back on time when customers arrive at the stores.
Walmart expects that consumers who order online will have access to Alphabot by this year-end. However, they are first learning how this kind of technology aids their business goals. Shoppers will first be able to order groceries online for pick-up only from October 1 onwards. Eventually, the store will offer grocery delivery from a later date.
Walmart is testing the newer and innovative technologies at its flagship Salem store, just off Interstate 93. Post a remodel, the store will serve multiple purposes such as a Pickup Tower for online orders, an automated shelf scanner that identifies out-of-stock items, the QUICK unloader to help move items off trucks, and Walmart’s mobile point-of-sale, Check Out With Me.
As this is only a pilot project, no confirmation has been received from Walmart if they will be extending the automated service to its other stores as well. However, the experiment with ‘Alphabot’ to improve online grocery pick-up service only proves Walmart’s consistent efforts to serve customers in an even better way.