Walmart is about to carve out sections of dozens of stores to make way for automated local fulfillment centers to speed up online orders.
After a year like 2020 when e-commerce soared, Walmart says it’s committed to finding faster ways to serve customers. Walmart will be using dozens of its stores to serve as local fulfillment centers, said Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product for Walmart U.S.
Walmart stores are “transforming to serve more and more purposes – we’re using them to fill pickup and delivery orders, make Walmart.com deliveries and more,” Ward said in a blog post. “We have a great operation that will serve us well for years to come, but we aren’t stopping there.”
So far, Walmart has identified two local stores to be part of the program’s initial phase: 8801 Ohio Drive in Plano and 190 E. Round Grove Road in Lewisville.
To build the local fulfillment centers, Walmart is working with several technology companies. Ward named three: Massachusetts-based Alert Innovation, Atlanta-based Dematic, and New York-based Fabric, a startup that’s focused on creating last-mile fulfillment centers in stores.
Walmart didn’t say how much the new program will cost or how quickly it will build the new operations. The retailer has a huge curbside pickup grocery business in Dallas-Fort Worth and was the first to offer it in the market in 2015.
In the battle with Amazon, Walmart has long said its stores are its advantage, but in recent years, Amazon has built smaller satellite locations where its trucks can pull up for thousands of items that customers regularly order.
Amazon is still building massive fulfillment centers in Texas, but it’s also dotted Dallas-Fort Worth with smaller delivery stations that work with the 1-million-plus square foot facilities in Dallas, Coppell, Fort Worth, Haslet, Irving and Wilmer.
Some stores may have to expand to add fulfillment centers and others will be able to fit inside the existing four walls, Ward said.
The new fulfillment centers will hold fresh and frozen foods and will be able to store thousands of items Walmart knows customers want regularly from consumables to electronics, he said.
Ward described a highly automated process.
“Instead of an associate walking the store to fulfill an order from our shelves, automated bots retrieve the items from within the fulfillment center,” he said. “The items are then brought to a picking workstation, where the order can be assembled with speed.”
Walmart employees will continue to handpick fresh items, such as produce, meat and seafood. They will also collect large general merchandise from the store aisles.
“This whole process can take just a few minutes from the time the order is placed to the time it’s ready for a customer or delivery driver to collect,” he said.
Walmart has had one such local fulfillment center operating in Salem, New Hampshire, since late 2019. That facility and the new ones in the works can fill orders for “many stores” nearby, Ward said.
Retailers are all trying to make their stores work harder.
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