Walmart opens automated market fulfillment center in Bentonville

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 3,181 views 

This a look inside the new market fulfillment center at Walmart Store 100 in Bentonville. The Alphabot retrieval system is being used to improve picking time and accuracy of online orders for pickup and delivery by third party drivers or drone. (photo courtesy of Walmart)

It’s been two years in the making, but the new market fulfillment center (MFC) attached to Walmart Store No. 100 at 406 S. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville is open. It is Walmart’s second such center in what will be around a dozen in the coming years, according to the retailer.

It’s part of Walmart’s plan to increase the efficiency of its online pickup and delivery business using more automation while also improving order accuracy, reducing substitutions and reducing pickers from the often congested store aisles.

Walmart said it continues to test various MFC prototypes that range from fully automated to partially automated that also use personal shoppers in a lighter capacity. The Bentonville MFC is the latest iteration using bots and people.

Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner spoke briefly at Monday’s (May 22) grand opening ceremony. He said the Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville holds a special place in his heart as it’s where he began his career in retail 30 years ago. He said now it’s a place where Walmart is testing tech automation for online order fulfillment.

The MFC is powered by a proprietary storage and retrieval system named Alphabot. It was first tested in Salem, N.H., with Alert Technology in 2019. Walmart acquired Alert Technologies in October for an undisclosed sum and brought the operations in-house. Walmart believes fulfillment through digitization and connecting its store and supply chain assets end to end will transform fulfillment, according to Prathibha Rajashekar, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart.

“We’re innovating toward an even better shopping experience every day, and on every platform to help our customers and associates live better, we’re using technology to help them save time. That leads to improved experiences for everyone, no matter how they shop – and moves our entire business forward in the process,” Rajashekar said.

Walmart declined to disclose the size, cost or number of employees at the MFC.

There is space in the Bentonville MFC to add additional capacity. The MFC now only processes orders that come into Store No. 100, but Walmart has said the goal is to have one MFC process orders for multiple stores. The personal shoppers already employed by the store will now work out of the MFC that has the ability to store products in three temperature zones.

The MFC holds the most commonly picked items for pickup, The orders are retrieved by the Alphabot and brought to the staging area. Personal shoppers will pick fresh items and general merchandise from the sales floor and assemble the order in the MFC staging area for storage until pickup. Walmart said the MFC provides the availability to fulfill more orders faster and allows for pickup or delivery within an hour of ordering.