With a significant portion of sales already coming from BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store) channels, you would expect an uptick in its supporting technology. BOPIS was this year’s buzzword at the NRF Big Show as there was literally aisle after aisle showcasing some pretty amazing BOPIS technology.
So the fact that Walmart decided to invest its resources into BOPIS tech and other task-automating technology, shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The nature of that tech however, is pretty eye-opening.
This week the company announced a battery of Jetson-like gizmos which, once fully implemented, will make shopping, pick-up, and store-management tasks much easier and much more efficient.
The “Auto-C” is an autonomous floor cleaner – think, Roomba on steroids. The Auto-C can be programmed to travel throughout the open parts of the store, leaving behind a clean, polished floor. According to Walmart, “Auto-C provides a cleaner shopping experience for our customers, and it frees up our associates to serve them better.” 1500 Auto-C floor cleaners are scheduled to be deployed to stores.
The “Auto-S” scans shelves for low inventory levels and sends information back to associates in real time. We’ve seen different solutions for this in the past, including one from AWS Smartshelf that builds monitoring technology directly into the shelving units. 300 Auto-S scanners will be coming to stores later this year.
The “Fast Unloader”, as its name suggests, speeds up the monotonous and often back-breaking task of unloading trucks as they arrive at store docks. Walmart mentioned that dock workers were often difficult to retain due to the nature of that job. 1200 Fast Unloaders will arrive in stores over the next several months.
The “Pickup Tower” addresses BOPIS purchases by acting as a butler of sorts, dispensing items ordered online from a vending machine-like robot, thus freeing up associates from waiting around idly for a customer to pick up their order. As Walmart describes it, “A customer places an order online and selects for an in-store pickup. The associate loads the ordered item into the Pickup Tower. When a customer receives a notification via email that the item is available, they can use the Pickup Tower like a giant vending machine to retrieve their purchase.” Walmart has ordered 900 Pickup Towers for its U.S. stores.
What’s more, the Auto-S shelf scanners and the Fast Unloaders, share data back and forth to improve the whole process of getting products on the shelves.
The arrival of Walmart’s smart assistants underscore the value of the BOPIS shopper and a view to some of the technology that will likely be trickling down to smaller retailers soon.