TECHNOLOGY

Albertsons to test robotic pick system for online orders

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A supermarket giant is going to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify and automate online orders picked at store-level

During a presentation at Groceryshop 2018 in Las Vegas, Narayan Iyengar, senior VP digital and e-commerce for Albertsons Cos., announced the chain is partnering with Takeoff Technologies to test the value of a “micro-fulfillment center” concept supported by Takeoff’s AI capabilities. The “hyper-local” automated center, which will be piloted in an existing store early in 2019, is designed to leverage Albertsons’ existing supply chain and store footprint. The system also has the agility to pick various types of products.

Here’s how the concept works: As a customer enters their order using Albertsons’ existing e-commerce interface, the order will be delivered to the new automated system. Takeoff’s solution will then take over the fulfillment process.  Its artificial intelligence-enabled robots and system of totes and conveyors can collect items for online grocery orders in minutes, at a fraction of the speed and cost of manual-picking processes., with the items delivered to an Albertsons employee, who prepares the order for the customer.

Albertsons said it expects the concept to greatly reduce the amount of time necessary for individual customer orders to be processed. The pilot also makes Albertsons the first national grocer to implement an automated e-commerce fulfillment center, according to the company.

“Investing in e-commerce directly benefits our customers, and anything that we can do to simplify their grocery shopping experience to save valuable time is a win,” said Iyengar. “While our partnership with Takeoff Technologies will streamline e-commerce fulfillment and improve our efficiencies, we’re excited that Takeoff’s AI solution will make it even easier for customers to get their groceries how and when they want.”

This is Albertsons’ latest move to bolster its e-commerce offering. Earlier this year, the supermarket giant launched Albertsons Performance Media, a digital media capability designed to improve the digital advertising performance of its CPG brand partners.

In addition, the company opened its digital marketplace — a service that enables customers to purchase items online directly from manufacturers — to outside vendors.  Albertsons also recently joined forces with driver service Instacart, a move to offer same-day delivery of online orders to customers in as little as an hour. The grocer planned to make the service available in more than 1,800 of Albertsons’ banners across the country by mid-2018.

The company was also the first national grocery retailer to acquire a prepared-meals company. The supermarket chain acquired online meal company Plated last fall.

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TECHNOLOGY

Panera’s investment in digital ordering is paying off in a big way

BY CSA Staff

Panera is on its way to more than doubling last year’s digital sales — and hitting a new milestone.

The fast-casual chain, which is known for its signature soups, sandwiches and salads, is slated to report digital sales surpassing $2 billion on an annualized basis. This is double the company’s electronic orders in 2017, according to CNBC.

Digital sales, which include online, mobile and kiosk orders, make up about 33% of the company’s total sales. Excluding the pizza segment, which typically sees digital transactions as 50% of total sales, Panera has the highest rate in the industry, the fast casual chain said in the report.

In 2017, Panera’s CEO Blaine Hurst forecasted that digital sales would be one-third of all sales within the next five years. The company hit that mark this year, according to CNBC.

To read more, click here.

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TECHNOLOGY

This initiative is still slow to gain traction, especially in the United States

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Retailers are still missing opportunities to bridge their online and offline experiences, especially when it comes to order fulfillment.

A mere 37.6% of retailers offer click and collect — or buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) — services. Even fewer (34.8%) BOPIS retailers commit to having orders ready within 24 hours, according to “Omni-2000 Research: Global,” a study from Order Dynamics. (The study analyzes the omnichannel service offerings of more than 2,000 retailers in the United States, U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Germany and Austria.)

According to data, retailers in the U.S are farthest behind in the initiative, and rank lowest among the countries assessed, with only 27.5% of retailers providing BOPIS. This is a big blow for the 69% of consumers that acknowledge having tried omnichannel retailing and who would like to see more BOPIS services.

By failing to offer BOPIS, retailers are also missing an opportunity for promotion. Further, only 57.1% of retailers offering the service advertise it on their website’s front page.

Retailers are lagging in other areas as well. For example, a mere 38.1% of companies show basic inventory visibility on product pages. Worse, a strict year-over-year comparison revealed a 30.7% drop in active online inventory visibility.

This is a concerning drop in an industry experiencing so much change. Passive inventory visibility is a factor in this drop. Unlike active inventory visibility, a passive approach only signals when a good is out of stock, according to the study.

Omnichannel retailers also struggle with how to deliver a mobile experience. In fact, only 11.4% of omnichannel merchants have a site optimized for mobile commerce.

One area where companies excel is in their buy online return in store (BORIS) offering. Currently, a whopping 72.6% of omnichannel retailers offer BORIS.

“To increase sales and retain customers, omnichannel retailers today need to provide customers with clarity,” said Nick McLean, CEO, OrderDynamics. “Whether it is low stock visibility or general service awareness about cross-channel fulfillment, these are opportunities to get closer to what drives customer demand.”

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