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Walmart yesterday unveiled what it is calling Alphabot, which Bloomberg describes as "an automated, 20,000-square-foot warehouse that could make its grocery pickup service faster and more efficient."

The Alphabot is Walmart's entry in the micro-fulfillment wars; its "robotic carts quickly retrieve items and deliver them to employees at a picking station, who then pack and deliver the order to customers’ cars in the parking lot."

Bloomberg notes that the Alphabot - which has been development for several years, and currently is being tested by Walmart in Salem, New Hampshire - brings both efficiency and effectiveness to the picking process, which can be laborious and disruptive in-store. The design of the warehouse has been crafted to emphasize speed: "The thirty bots in the Salem warehouse, each about two feet wide, quietly whiz product-filled totes around vertically and horizontally without the need for lifts or conveyors, picking items ten times faster than a human shopper could."

The picking bots only are picking packaged products; fresh food still is being picked by hand.

Some context from Bloomberg: "While Walmart’s overall e-commerce division has had its ups and downs, its online grocery business has been a star, boosting a category that contributes more than half of its U.S. revenue. Today, customers can pick up their orders curbside for free at more than 3,000 stores, up from about 400 in 2016. The company also offers home delivery for a fee, and is testing deliveries that go right into customers’ fridges when they’re not home.

"The moves have helped Walmart stay ahead of Amazon, and its Whole Foods chain, as the internet giant tries to grab more of Americans’ food spending. A recent survey from The Retail Feedback Group found that 37% of shoppers chose Walmart for their most recent online grocery order, besting Amazon (29%) and also traditional supermarkets, many of whom employ Instacart Inc. to handle fulfillment."
KC's View:
I continue to be a big fan of concepts like ghost kitchens, dark stores and micro-fulfillment centers. They would seem to be the very definition of the kind of flexibility that a lot of traditional retailers can use to adapt to changing consumer needs, and reflect the kind of non-traditional thinking that more companies need to adopt if they are going to remain relevant.