Walmart is testing automated robot carts that retrieve bins of groceries from storage as it tries to speed up the process of packaging online orders to send out or bringing to customers at their cars.
The company said Friday it's working with Billerica, Massachusetts-based Alert Innovation on the Alphabot, which it is testing in its Salem, New Hampshire store. The mobile carts move up and down and sideways to retrieve items faster than if workers walked the aisles.
Business Insider reports that Walmart is building a 20,000-square-foot extension to its Salem store to house the carts. The company said it plans to have Alphabot up and running by the end of this year.
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Workers will still handpick produce, meat and other fresh products, and assemble, pack and bring the order out to shoppers. Walmart says it'll hire the usual number of workers at the test store.
"Our online grocery service is already a huge hit with customers, allowing them to quickly and conveniently order groceries online, select a pickup time and have those groceries delivered to their car in minutes," said Mark Ibbotson, executive vice president of central operations for Walmart in the U.S. "Alphabot will work behind the scenes to make the process even easier by automatically bringing items from storage to associates who will consolidate the items in the order. For our pickup associates, that means less time walking the store aisles in search of products and more time ensuring customers are getting the absolute best in fresh produce, meats, etc."
He said the Alphabot will not replace employees, but will allow them more time to focus on service and selling, instead of "mundane, repeatable tasks."
Online grocery shopping is still a tiny part of the market, but customer convenience is increasingly crucial as chains try to catch up to Amazon.