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Walmart to acquire robotic e-grocery fulfillment technologies provider

walmart online fulfillment
Walmart is purchasing Alert Innovation.

Walmart is taking a big step forward in its efforts to streamline its supply chain and automatically fill online orders from its stores.

The discount behemoth has agreed to acquire Alert Innovation, a robotics automation company that develops material-handling technology for automating order fulfillment in retail supply chains. The price was not revealed. Walmart has been working with Alert to customize technology for its market fulfillment centers (MFC), which are in-store automated warehouses that fulfill online from stores, since 2016.

[Read more: Walmart pilots new grocery technology to take on Amazon and Kroger]

Walmart said its investments in this technology will enable the company to leverage its store footprint – 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population – for storage and fulfillment. In late 2019, Walmart piloted its first MFC at a supercenter store in Salem, N.H., using custom-built Alphabot System bot technology from Alert.

How it works
The Alphabot technology operates inside a 20,000-sq.-ft. warehouse-style space, using autonomous carts to retrieve items ordered online. After it retrieves the products, the system delivers them to an in-store workstation, where a Walmart associate checks, bags and delivers the final order. 

As the Walmart pickup and delivery process currently works, associates select items from the sales floor for customers, package them and then deliver them. While associates will continue to pick produce and other fresh grocery items by hand, the automated Alphabot system will help make the retrieval process for all other items easier and faster, according to Walmart. 

The fully autonomous bots operate on three axes of motion. Because the carts that carry items move both horizontally and vertically without any lifts or conveyors, there are fewer space constraints, which Walmart hopes will make adoption of the system easier across stores.

By increasing fulfillment speeds, Walmart also hopes this technology can create more convenience for customers, allowing them to place orders closer to pick-up time, and reducing wait time when picking up an order. 

In addition, Alphabot continually shares order information in real-time. Armed with this data, Walmart intends to make shelf-stocking more intelligent – such as placing items that are usually bought together close to each other. Walmart also seeks to use order data to help make more personally targeted substitutions when a customer’s first choice is out of stock.

“Using the best of Alert’s technology and capabilities in-house will enable us to reach customers quicker by deploying MFCs with greater speed, providing both an unmatched shopping experience and a competitive advantage in omnichannel fulfillment,” said David Guggina, senior VP of innovation and automation, Walmart U.S., in a corporate blog post. “This is part of our broader goal to introduce the next generation of fulfillment centers and continue to transform our already world-class supply chain.”

[Read more: Walmart unveils next-gen fulfillment center]

“We will continue leveraging our development, manufacturing and deployment expertise to enable Walmart to build and scale MFC technology in its stores. With Walmart, we have the opportunity to positively impact millions of lives through the Alphabot System,” said Fritz Morgan, Alert Innovation CEO.

Alert Innovation will continue to operate under the Alert Innovation brand based in the Boston area.

Headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart Inc. operates more than 10,500 stores and clubs under 46 banners in 24 countries and e-commerce websites.

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