Walmart to convert dozens of stores into high-tech warehouses

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Walmart said it will convert space at dozens of its stores into high-tech warehouse space as it expects a surge in online orders for pickup and delivery will persist beyond the pandemic.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer said some store locations will get divvied up while others will get additional square footage to create on-site mini-fulfillment centers, in which automated robots roam the floor to retrieve certain items and bring them to an assembly work station.

The robots will whittle the process of picking and packing orders down to “a few minutes,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product in the US, said in a blog post on Wednesday.

Personal shoppers will be used, however, to retrieve fresh food like meat and produce as well as bulkier items, he said.

Walmart is betting that the pandemic fueled surge in online shopping and reliance on delivery and store pick-up options will continue for years and that these investments will allow it to better compete with the likes of Amazon.

“Our customers love the speed and convenience of pickup and delivery,” Ward added. “And we’re committed to finding faster ways to serve them, which is why we’re scaling the number of stores that will also serve as local fulfillment centers.”

Walmart began testing the concept in 2019 in Salem, NH, where orders were prepared for customers to pick up or have delivered within an hour. Walmart is teaming up with several technology partners, including Fabric, Alert Innovation and Dematic.

“It’s clear that one of Walmart’s competitive advantages is our stores,” Ward said.

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