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Walmart acquires automated grocery fulfillment firm Alert Innovation

Company has been building custom tech for Walmart facilities since 2016

As the largest retailer in the world, it’s no surprise that Walmart has poured money into innovative fulfillment technologies like drone delivery and advanced robotics.

In particular, the company has been focused on modernizing its warehouses with automation. But while it owns a majority stake in warehouse robotics firm Symbotic, which in May brought robots to all 42 of its regional distribution centers, the retailer until this week didn’t own a warehouse tech company outright.

That changed Thursday when Walmart (NYSE: WMT) announced the acquisition of grocery automation firm Alert Innovation for an undisclosed price. The two companies have worked together since 2016, when Alert began building custom fulfillment solutions for Walmart’s grocery fulfillment operation. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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“Further investing in this technology will enable us to leverage our store footprint — 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population — for storage and fulfillment,” said David Guggina, vice president of innovation and automation for Walmart U.S., in a blog post

“For customers, this means orders can be fulfilled quickly and conveniently through pickup and delivery, giving them the items they want, when and where they want them. This system also enhances the experience for associates, who are integral to helping us perfect the system. ”

Walmart first piloted Alert’s bot technology in 2019 at a market fulfillment center (MFC) in Salem, New Hampshire. There, Alert’s Alphabot System operates within a 20,000-square-foot space, using autonomous carts to retrieve groceries, including chilled and frozen items. The carts are capable of moving both horizontally and vertically.

The robots also share real-time order information, and the system gradually learns patterns to intelligently optimize stocking. That data-sharing capability also helps operators forecast demand. For example, if the system knows that customers often buy pasta and marinara sauce together, it can use that information to position inventory and make substitutions.

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“We will continue leveraging our development, manufacturing and deployment expertise to enable Walmart to build and scale MFC technology in its stores,” said Fritz Morgan, CEO of Alert. “With Walmart, we have the opportunity to positively impact millions of lives through the Alphabot System.”

In 2020, a similar system was installed at Walmart’s supercenter in Rogers, Arkansas. Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product, said last year that the retailer is looking to convert “dozens of locations, with many more to come.”

Elsewhere, Walmart has been building local fulfillment centers with Fabric and Dematic, two firms that specialize in automated microfulfillment. It also partnered with tech company Knapp to build four next-generation fulfillment centers. The first opened in Joliet, Illinois, this summer, with three others slated to begin operation over the next three years.

In other news, Walmart announced this week white-label delivery service GoLocal surpassed 5,000 delivery locations, which is well ahead of company projections. The service was launched in April 2021 to help the retailer fulfill orders from its massive network of local stores. Already, GoLocal has facilitated over 1 million deliveries.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.