Walmart Plans for Future in Online Grocery Shopping

Walmart plans to expand its use of automated fulfillment centers for packing pick up and delivery orders, the company announced on Jan 27. 

Dozens of Walmart stores are slated to become local fulfillment centers, compact and modular warehouses within or attached to a store to fulfill online orders. Automated bots will replace workers walking throughout the store and selecting items to fulfill online orders. 

The nation’s largest grocer will continue experimenting with numerous technologies to ensure that these centers run smoothly. The company tested the system at its Salem, New Hampshire store in 2019 and reported positive results. 

As Walmart expands its fulfillment centers, it is expected that the company will seek additional technology providers, such as Dematic, Fabric, and Alert Innovation. 

“With these partners, we’ll be testing different orientations and add-on innovations to understand what works best in different environments,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of Customer Product for Walmart. “For example, in some locations, we’ll be adding on to our stores. In others, the fulfillment centers will sit inside the existing store footprint.” 

Customers and delivery drivers will be able to drive into a pickup area, scan a code, and grab orders in a matter of minutes. 

Few specifics were given, such as the cost of the upgrades or which stores will receive them. Between these changes and WalmartPlus, the recently launched membership service that offers members free deliveries on orders over $35, Walmart is leveling the playing field with its rivals, Amazon, Kroger, and Ahold-Delhaize’s FreshDirect. 

Recent steps taken by the company show that it hopes to keep the appeal of shopping from home for customers, even after it is safe to visit stores in person. 

“As we move ahead, we don’t see the use of these services changing in the future,” explained Ward to CNBC. “We expect that we’ll continue to serve more and more customers who have come to rely on pickup and delivery as an important part of our lives.” Further, he added that fulfillment centers are another way to make the company’s over 4,000 stores a competitive asset. 

Throughout the pandemic, Walmart’s profits have soared as the company drastically improved pickup and delivery performance, which grew by as much as 300%.

The company’s efforts towards automation have accelerated in 2020 between its launch of a drone delivery for coronavirus tests and a failed attempt to have robots stock shelves. 

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