Even though everything is bigger in Texas, the San Antonio-based H-E-B grocery chain is going small. Today, the chain announced it has partnered with Swisslog to install automated micro-fulfillment centers at an undisclosed number of stores (tip of the hat to Grocery Dive).
According to the press announcement, H-E-B will make use of Swisslog’s AutoStore solution, which will use a combination of bins and robotics to shuttle grocery items around. Swisslog says that it has more than 170 AutoStore installations worldwide. H-E-B has 400 locations across Texas.
Swisslog’s micro-fulfillment centers will help H-E-B speed up the processing of online grocery orders for delivery and curbside pickup. Keeping up with the crush of new e-commerce customers was something retailers across the country struggled with throughout a good part of this year as pandemic fears pushed people into online grocery shopping.
While the first few months of the pandemic saw record amounts of online grocery shopping, recent survey data from Brick Meets Click shows that grocery e-commerce dropped in August to $5.7 billion, down from its peak of $7.2 billion in June. Having said that, August’s online grocery numbers were higher than the the $5.3 billion in April.
Swisslog is among a number of companies angling to bring more automation to grocery e-commerce fulfillment. Alert Innovation is being used by Walmart, Fabric is working with Fresh Direct, Takeoff Technologies has lined up Albertsons, ShopRite, and Loblaw’s, and Kroger is building out its own centers using Ocado.
While we’re still waiting to see exactly how many people stick with online grocery shopping (FWIW, even Whole Foods’ CEO thinks a lot of people won’t go back into grocery stores), H-E-B’s announcement shows that retailers continue to make big investments in micro-fulfillment. Will these micro-moves yield Texas-sized returns?