Boxed, an e-commerce company that sells bulk grocery items, yesterday announced a $110 million investment led by Aeon Group, one of the largest retailers in Japan. This minority stake brings the total amount raised by Boxed to $243.6 million and values the company at $600 million.
The news was first reported by The New York Times as part of a larger story about Boxed‘s high-tech warehouses and the larger role fulfillment is playing for grocery retailers. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods last year shook up the grocery business with its combination of technology-driven logistics and groceries. Now, having an optimized logistics infrastructure to handle e-commerce and delivery is an essential component for every retailer.
All the major grocery retailers are getting into the logistics game. Amazon is bringing its delivery expertise to Whole Foods, Target acquired Shipt and Grand Junction, and Walmart acquired Parcel after previously acquiring Jet.com. All of this activity means how you get your groceries is becoming as important as the quality of groceries you are getting.
Which brings us back to Boxed, which in addition to operating its own e-commerce, has a robust fulfillment offering. The Times writes that the investment deal between Aeon and Boxed is structured such that Boxed can license its technology, which includes “mobile app technology, personalization software, a packing algorithm that maximizes space in shipping boxes, software that tracks item expiration dates, order management software and warehouse robotics automation” to other retailers in the U.S.
The Boxed/Aeon deal is reminiscent of the recent Kroger/Ocado deal. Earlier this year, Kroger upped its investment in U.K.-based Ocado, which runs a number of automated smart warehouses for more efficient last-mile grocery delivery. As part of that deal, Kroger will be building out twenty similar warehouses for grocery delivery here in the U.S..
Fulfillment centers are also moving from dedicated warehouses and into the grocery stores themselves. Walmart is building out a robotic fulfillment center at one of its locations to bolster its curbside pickup service. And the startup Takeoff will unveil its first robot-driven micro-fulfillment center inside a grocery store later this fall.
The good news is that as Boxed and all these other grocers bring fulfillment into the modern era, consumers will be the beneficiary, with expanded options for faster grocery shopping.