Back in 2019, Walmart started piloting its first local fulfillment center in Salem, which uses robots called the Alphabot to pick items from shelves. Now, the retail giant is turning more locations into automated fulfillment centers by converting a portion of the stores into warehouses or adding a new section. Walmart stocks automated fulfillment centers with frequently purchased goods, including consumables (such as fresh and frozen items) and electronics. They’re meant to make order delivery and pickup a lot faster, and the Alphabot is a key element in making that possible.
The wheeled robot can quickly go anywhere inside a warehouse to retrieve items from shelves and then take them to a workstation for assembly. Human associates will then be freed up to handpick products best left to non-robotic workers, such as meat, vegetables and fruits. In a post announcing the initiative on the company website, SVP of Customer Product Tom Ward said the process can “take just a few minutes from the time the order is placed to the time it’s ready for a customer or delivery driver to collect.” Being able to fulfill orders faster means Walmart can accommodate more customers, which could help the company in its bid to catch up to Amazon.
Walmart is also teaming up with partners to test new technologies for the fulfillment centers. In some stores, for instance, it will offer an automated pickup option that’ll allow buyers to drive up to a designated area, scan a code and grab their order. Ward didn’t say how many stores will be converted into fulfillment centers exactly, or how many Alphabots will be deployed — he only revealed that the company is planning to convert “dozens of locations, with many more to come.” According to CNBC, though, it’s already broken ground on compact fulfillment centers in the Dallas area, as well as in Bentonville, Arkansas.