Corporate Walmart is sold on the idea of creating a whole new model for expansion. This time around, the company has decided to boost the number of stores that will also serve as local fulfillment centers.
“Our customers love the speed and convenience of pickup and delivery, and we’re committed to finding faster ways to serve them,” said Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product, wrote in a Wednesday (Jan. 27) news release. “We’re already planning dozens of locations, with many more to come.”
The pandemic pushed Walmart into fulfilling more of its online orders directly from individual stores. In a statement in late November, Ward said the new program would “use our existing local delivery capabilities to get orders to customers faster, while reducing the load on our online fulfillment centers.”
The company said its new local fulfillment centers could be “a compact, modular warehouse built within, or added to, a store.” The idea is to stock fresh and frozen items, and also store thousands of items the chain’s “customers want most, from consumables to electronics.”
There’s an automation angle to the deal.
“Instead of an associate walking the store to fulfill an order from our shelves, automated bots retrieve the items from within the fulfillment center,” Ward explained in the latest release. “The items are then brought to a picking workstation, where the order can be assembled with speed.”
The company had already begun testing the concept for serving online shoppers at a Walmart in Salem, N.H. in late 2019. “The technology is impressive,” Ward said. “Equally impressive are the results.”
“The system’s speed can allow orders to be picked up, or delivered, within the hour,” Ward said. He added, “One local fulfillment center can fulfill orders for many stores, which means its benefits can be felt by customers in stores nearby.”
“We’ll be building local fulfillment centers with various technology partners, including Alert Innovation, Dematic and Fabric,” he added. “With these partners, we’ll be testing different orientations and add-on innovations to understand what works best in different environments.”