Kroger announced today that it will be building robot-powered fulfillment centers in the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes and West regions of the U.S. This expansion marks the first such robot warehouses to be situated on the west coast.
These smart warehouses use technology from U.K. grocer Ocado to automate the process of online grocery order fulfillment. Kroger is taking a centralized approach to such fulfillment, building out 20 robot centers in various locations across the U.S. to serve as hubs for customer delivery.
Other retailers are taking a more localized approach to automated order logistics, choosing instead to build out micro fulfillment centers in the backs of existing neighborhood supermarkets. Albertsons and Ahold Delhaize both have partnerships with Takeoff Technologies to build these types of centers, while Walmart is using Alert Innovation for a similar experiment.
The speed of online grocery order fulfillment has definitely become more of a priority during this pandemic. Quarantining has driven record online grocery sales over the past few months, but retailers were ill equipped to handle the deluge of new orders. The result has been out of stock items and massive delays in delivery windows.
The question, however, is, will those online grocery shoppers remain after the pandemic recedes. Companies like Kroger and Albertsons are making big investments in automated fulfillment, but once we get back to “normal,” which definitely won’t be the old normal, will people want to go back into the grocery store to pick out their own food?
Kroger’s march towards automation predates the pandemic by a long shot, so current fluctuations driven by the coronavirus probably aren’t driving too much of its implementation. Besides, the first of Kroger’s robot warehouses isn’t even scheduled to open until early 2021, so there is time for grocers and shoppers to figure out any new preferences to grocery shopping.