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Large grocery store chains have been exploring the potential cost savings that could result from robotic inventory management and fulfillment services for several years. However, these solutions usually demand vast space and substantial inventory to be successful. The market to expand uses of these robotic systems to smaller grocery retailers thus has been limited … until now.

Several startup firms in the grocery industry hope to change the situation by introducing innovative, micro-fulfillment options using robotic technology. For example, the firm Takeoff Technology is installing its robotic fulfillment solution in smalls spaces that are about one-eighth of the size of a traditional grocery store. Its first micro-fulfillment grocery center will open in October. The facility will use robotic technology to complete grocery orders placed online, such that the items will be available for drive-through pick-up within a half hour of being ordered.

CommonSense Robotics is another startup company experimenting with small robotic fulfillment centers. Its robotic order fulfillment services are designed to fit in smaller, underutilized spaces within cities. Multiple small grocery and convenience stores could implement the system in the shared basement of a building, and the robots would pull and pack an order before delivering it to an employee for in-home delivery. The startup plans to expand outside of its initial store in Israel to the United States and United Kingdom in the coming year.

Regardless of the industry served, being able to fit new click-and-collect robotic fulfillment solutions into smaller spaces ultimately will help streamline the fulfillment process. As more firms see the potential success of micro-fulfillment solutions, and customers demand the convenience offered by them, the industry is sure to expand quickly.

Discussion Question:

  1. How are these fulfillment centers different from traditional fulfillment centers?

Source: Matthew Stern, “Is Robotic Micro-Fulfillment the Path to Streamlined Grocery Pickup?” Retail Wire, July 24, 2018; CBInsights, “Can Retailers Solve Last-Mile Delivery through Micro Fulfillment?” March 28, 2018; Takeoff, https://www.takeoff.com; Commonsense Robotics, https://www.cs-robotics.com

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