Walmart to expand online order fulfillment system

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 3,514 views 

Walmart is planning to add compact modular warehouses to some of its supercenters as part of a long-term effort to improve its ability to fulfill online orders for grocery pickup and delivery. One of those stores is at 406 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville.

The retail giant said Tuesday (Jan. 26) it will build automation into local fulfillment centers attached to Walmart stores. The plan is modeled after a trial that has been underway in Salem, N.H., since late 2019 using Alphabot automation and a smaller scale robotic system installed in a supercenter at 4208 S. Pleasant Crossing Blvd. in Rogers two years ago.

Walmart did not disclose costs related to the expanded system, or any changes in employment related to the new effort. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said recently Walmart expanded online grocery pickup and delivery capacity as the pandemic unfolded, hiring 500,000 people in the last year to help with order picking and fulfillment in stores and distribution centers amid unprecedented demand.

Talk Business & Politics has learned that Store No. 100, the supercenter in Bentonville, is in the midst of expansion to be a local fulfillment center that will serve multiple area stores. Walmart did not say how many local stores would be part of the buildout. City planners in December approved a 45,000-square-foot addition to the store.

Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product at Walmart U.S., said the retailer has planned dozens of locations for the automation with many more to come. He described the local fulfillment center buildout as a compact modular warehouse built within or added to a store. The fulfillment centers can store thousands of items that are most ordered online from customers from frozen foods, consumables to electronics, he said.

“Instead of a personal shopper walking the store to fulfill an order from shelves, automated bots retrieve the items from within the fulfillment center,” Ward said. “The items are then brought to a picking workstation, where the order can be assembled with speed. We’ve always said personal shoppers are the secret to our pickup and delivery success and that remains true. So, while the system retrieves the order for assembly, a personal shopper handpicks fresh items, like produce, meat and seafood, and large general merchandise items from the sales floor.”

Ward said once the order is collected, the system stores it until it’s ready for pick up. 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.

“The technology is impressive. Equally impressive are the results with more availability, faster fulfillment and greater efficiency.” Ward said.

Walmart said the automation allows for faster order picking that will create more availably for customers. The system speed can allow orders to be picked up or delivered within the hour. Also one local fulfillment center can fulfill orders for many stores for great efficiency in operations. Ward said Walmart will build local fulfillment centers with various technology providers, including Alert Innovation, the Alphabot automation used in Salem and Rogers, and technology from Dematic and Fabic.

“With these providers, we’ll be testing different orientations and add-on innovations to understand what works best in different environments. 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,” Ward said.

He said in some stores the retailer will add automated pickup points. That will allow customers to drive up, scan a code, grab their order and go.

“It’s no secret our customers love the speed and convenience of pickup and delivery. These local fulfillment centers help unlock our ability to expand even faster to meet their needs today, while also setting a new foundation to serve them in the future. We’re excited about this new chapter for our business and what it means for our customers,” Ward said.