Walmart’s Plan to Revolutionize Online Grocery Pickup and Delivery

Merger of e-commerce technology and brick and mortar methods could shape the future of modern retail.

Developed by Alert Innovation for Walmart, Alphabot enables more efficient order picking.
Developed by Alert Innovation for Walmart, Alphabot enables more efficient order picking.

A Walmart supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire, has installed Alphabot, a new technology that helps associates prep online orders faster by using autonomous mobile carts to deliver the items they need from storage to organize, assemble, and deliver the order to the customer's vehicle.

Developed by Alert Innovation for Walmart, Alphabot enables more efficient order picking. The system operates inside a 20,000-sq-ft warehouse-style space, using autonomous carts to retrieve ambient, refrigerated and frozen items ordered online. After it retrieves them, Alphabot delivers the products to a workstation, where a Walmart associate checks, bags and delivers the final order.

While associates will continue to pick produce and other fresh items by hand, Alphabot will help make the retrieval process for other items easier and faster, according to recent Walmart press release.

Walmart’s Senior Manager of Pickup Automation and Digital Operations Brian Roth says 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 says. “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.

“This is going to be a transformative impact to Walmart’s supply chain,” Roth said. “Alphabot is what we think of as micro-fulfillment – an inventive merger of e-commerce and brick and mortar methods.”

The system’s fully autonomous bots operate on three axes of motion, constituting a more flexible system than is typically found in traditional fulfillment centers and warehouses. Because the carts that carry items move both horizontally and vertically without any lifts or conveyors, there are fewer space constraints to consider, which should make adoption of the system easier across stores.

Real-time data sharing is also a benefit. Because Alphabot continually shares order information, the system will learn – and as it does, stocking will get more intelligent. Adoption of this new system can lead to a more seamless grocery pickup and delivery experience, making substitutions easier to anticipate and fill.

“We never want to be in a position to tell an online grocery customer they can’t have an item,” Roth says. “We’ll be able to look at datasets and fairly say ‘these two brands of pasta are typically bought together,’ or ‘here’s an item a consumer buys often,’ and use that information to make more informed substitutions.”

Alphabot has been operating at its pilot location in Salem since mid-2019. The store will continue to serve as Alphabot’s home while the process is refined. After collecting associate and customer feedback, next steps for a broader Alphabot rollout will be assessed. Until then, the system will continue to assist associates in Salem as they usher in a new era of productivity and service that could shape the future of modern retail, according to Walmart.

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