January 27, 2021

walmart automationFollowing a successful pilot program in New Hampshire, Walmart has announced it will scale up the creation of local fulfillment centers (LFC) at its stores with technology partners in the robotics and automation space, including Alert Innovation, Dematic and Fabric.

In a blog post on the Walmart corporate website, Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product for Walmart U.S. said the company plans to scale the LFC concept to dozens of locations, with many more to come. The LFC is a compact, modular warehouse that is built within, or added to, an existing store. The LFCs include fresh and frozen items, as well as thousands of products that Walmart says it knows the customer wants, including consumables and electronics.

“Instead of an associate walking the store to fulfill an order from our shelves, automated bots retrieve the items from within the fulfillment center,” said Ward. Items are then delivered 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,” said Ward. “While the system retrieves the order for assembly, a personal shopper handpicks fresh items like produce, meat and seafood, and large general merchandise from the sales floor.”

Ward said results from the Salem, N.H., pilot program, which began in 2019, have been impressive. Orders were picked faster, creating more availability for customers; the system’s speed allowed orders to be picked up or delivered within the hour; and one LFC can fulfill orders for many stores, giving benefits to customers in nearby stores.

Walmart said some stores will also be adding automated pickup points, which lets customers and delivery drivers enter a drive-through-like area, scan a code, grab and order and then leave. The company has embraced several automation technologies to help fill orders and get them to customers, including drone delivery, inventory speed, and self-driving vehicle deliveries.