Walmart Leverages Tech to Quickly Launch Popup FCs

walmart fulfillment center

Walmart is launching 42 popup fulfillment centers within existing U.S. retail distribution centers to help handle the peak fulfillment load during November and December, leveraging technology to route orders for local fulfillment and handling up to 30% of its holiday volume.

Greg Smith, Walmart’s EVP of supply chain, said the company’s technology team has developed enhancements to its supply chain systems to increase fulfillment throughput in the pop-up FCs.

“This means facilities that have traditionally only supplied products to stores are now equipped to also fulfill online orders, just in time for the holidays,” Smith said in a blog post.

Srini Venkatesan, Executive Vice President, Walmart Global Tech, said the supply chain technology enhancements allowed Walmart to simultaneously handle store replenishment and online fulfillment from the same locations. A multichannel sourcing engine scans the entire fulfillment network in less than a second and assign orders to the pop-ups based on which offer the fastest and most efficient option.

“The technology we’ve developed is allowing Walmart to leverage more of our current warehouse space to meet customer demand,” Venkatesan said in a separate blog. “After the holidays, EDCs will have the flexibility to scale up and down, and the lessons learned will be applied as we continue to further evolve our network in the future.” He added this kind of rollout would typically take months if it involved creation of new facilities, but instead happened in a matter of weeks.

Some of the tech enhancements that enabled a quick deployment of the pop-up FCs include random stow for sortable and non-sortable items; improved pick times of fast sellers to avoid aisle congestion; the ability to implement a BYOD policy for associates; cloud integration with third-party solutions; and enhanced inventory visibility to meet delivery dates.

Meyar Sheik, president and chief commerce officer of ecommerce platform Kibo, said Walmart’s move was timely given the recent COVID-19 surges as well as the impending holiday crush.

“It is also a more convenient option than curbside pickup, especially during peak holiday sales days, when many shoppers will likely prefer to avoid busy shopping areas where most Walmart and other popular retailers are located,” Sheik said. “Last but not least, this is a direct shot across the bow to Amazon, further leveling the playing field against Amazon’s distribution and logistics advantage as it pertains to expedited shipping options such as one-day or same-day delivery.”

He advised retailers to pursue flexible fulfillment options to entice shoppers, leveraging physical stores for micro-fulfillment or as dark stores, while employing standard tactics like BOPIS, ship from store and BORIS.

On another technology front, Walmart this week announced a pilot program in Scottsdale, AZ with autonomous vehicle provider Cruise to test out driver-less delivery of online orders.

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