Walmart is taking fulfillment operations to the store.
The discounter has opened a high-tech market fulfillment center (MFC), at store 100 in its hometown of Bentonville, Ark. It’s the second nationwide, with the first being a proof of concept located in Salem, N.H. Walmart plans to continue opening MFCs in select stores in the coming years.
The expansion of the MFC concept is in line with the retailer’s strategic move toward expanding the use of its stores as fulfillment centers to enhance the shopping experience for customers everywhere.
The center is built within the store and is powered by a proprietary storage and retrieval system named Alphabot. Walmart acquired Alphabot creator Alert Innovation, a robotics automation company that develops material-handling technology for automating order fulfillment in retail supply chains, in October 2022. Walmart had been working with Alert to customize technology for its MFCs since 2016.
Walmart believes fulfillment through digitization and connecting its store and supply chain assets end-to-end will transform fulfillment. And result in improved customer satisfaction and associate opportunity.
“This new order fulfillment system is truly game-changing,” said Ryan Simpson, the store manager at Store 100. “Not only does it enhance the customer experience through quicker, more accurate online order fulfillment, it also provides us the runway to continue growing our business now and in the future.”
MFCs will increase the number of orders the store is able to fulfill in a day, promising faster fulfillment with lower substitutions, according to Walmart.
In addition to improving the customer and member experience, associates will also notice benefits from the new MFC. The retailer said that employees can expect more time to focus on what’s important, including serving customers and supporting each other.
Working with the Alphabot system also presents new leadership jobs in stores, like the newly created MFC lead, and opportunities to learn and teach new tech-forward skills.
How Alphabot 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.
“We’re innovating toward an even better shopping experience every day, and on every platform,” said Prathibha Rajashekar, senior VP of innovation and automation at Walmart. “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.”