An automated Walmart FC with Knapp equipment (company photo)
Walmart announced plans to open up four new high-tech, automated fulfillment centers over the next three years, which when completed will enable it to reach 95% of the country in the Amazon Prime standard of two days or less, while streamlining fulfillment processes and increasing throughput.
The company posted the upbeat news under the looming shadow of Amazon Prime Day 2022, happening sometime in mid-July, and two weeks after a substantial earnings drop, with a 2.3% topline gain that beat the analyst estimate.
Walmart said the first facility, opening this summer in Joliet, IL, outside Chicago, will feature an automated, high-density storage system from Knapp, a provider of AI-driven warehouse and robotics and automation that will double both the storage capacity and number of orders processed.
The company is reportedly patenting a five-step unload/receive/pick/pack/ship process leveraging Knapp technology, which took 12 steps under a manual fulfillment model. Also, 4,000 associates will be hired to supply the manpower.
“These FCs will be the first of their kind for Walmart, using the powerful combination of people, robotics and machine learning to set an entirely new precedent for us on the speed of fulfillment while continuing to create a positive work environment for our associates,” said David Guggina, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Automation, Walmart U.S. in a blog post.
Successive FCs will open next spring in McCordsville, IN, near Indianapolis; in Lancaster, TX near Dallas in the fall of 2023; and in Greencastle, PA, about 100 miles northwest of Baltimore and Washington, DC sometime in 2024. A pilot facility that tested out the systems and processes has been operating in Pedericktown, NJ, southwest of Philadelphia.
Guggina said the four locations for new high-tech FCs were selected strategically to work in concert with Walmart’s 4,700 stores, 210 distribution centers and 31 ecommerce FCs to deliver domestic orders faster and to a broader swath of the country. Alone, they could get the job done for 75% of the population.
“In this way we show our customers they need to look no further than Walmart to get what they need, when they need it,” he said, a seeming allusion to its main rival.
This move comes at a time when studies show consumers are more willing to opt for slower delivery times in exchange for savings, or to lessen the environmental impact. Walmart offers free two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more, or unlimited free shipping plus other perks for members of its $98-a-year Walmart+ program. It launched in the fall of 2020 after some false starts. Membership estimates range as high as 32 million (Deutsche Bank), per RetailWire, compared to more than 200 million in the U.S. for Prime.
The company just wrapped Walmart+ Weekend, its spin on Prime Day, as a way to drive sales traffic and hopefully, more subscriptions with a free 30-day trial. Data company Numerator estimated the average order value during the extravaganza was $69.75, higher than both Prime Day 2021 ($54.17) and Walmart.com’s own AOV ($64.99).
Consumer Intelligence Research Partners reported last month that its data showed Walmart+ membership was showing signs of leveling off, after hitting a plateau of 12 million plus in January.