Walmart is testing the use of storage and retrieval robotics, called Alphabot, to increase the speed of online grocery order pickup, according to a company blog post. The technology, which was developed in collaboration with retail automation company Alert Innovation, is being installed in a section of a Salem, N.H. supercenter, which will also be a dedicated pickup point for groceries. Walmart said the Alphabot system will be operational by the end of this year, while regular grocery pickup will begin at the store on Oct. 1. (Walmart also plans to offer grocery delivery from the store in the coming months.) When completed, automated mobile carts will retrieve ordered items — stored warehouse-style in the new space — and then deliver them to associates at one of four pick stations. Personal shoppers will then pick, assemble and deliver orders to customers. The vast majority of grocery products offered in-store will be fulfilled through this system, though personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items, Walmart said.
Total Retail's Take: The Alphabot robotics system is the latest digital innovation from Walmart that's designed to improve online ordering, especially for buy online, pickup in-store applications. The large extension being added to the Salem, N.H. store — essentially a mini warehouse — is also a first for the retail chain, and is indicative of its push into the online grocery business. And for good reason: online grocery sales have hit historic highs recently. They’re projected to capture 20 percent of the $641 billion U.S. grocery market by 2025, according to a study by the Food Marketing Institute conducted by Nielsen. Roughly 20 percent of shoppers already purchase groceries online, and as many as 9 percent purchase them more than once a month. Walmart isn't the only superstore to ramp up its online grocery business. Kroger announced last week that it has launched Ship, an online grocery delivery service.The new platform will kick off in four markets — Cincinnati; Houston; Louisville, Ky.; and Nashville — with plans for release in additional markets in upcoming months.