BENTONVILLE, Ark.—Walmart announced it will open four "next generation" fulfillment centers over the next three years, with the first opening this summer in Joliet, Illinois, according to the company. The centers will be the “first of their kind” for Walmart and will use a combination of people, robotics and machine learning.
Walmart partnered with Knapp, a tech company for intelligent fulfillment solutions, to develop an automated, high-density storage system that streamlines a manual, 12-step process into five steps. Walmart has tested this system in its Pedricktown, New Jersey, fulfillment center and benefits it has seen from the technology include more comfort for associates, double the storage capacity and double the number of customer orders Walmart can fulfill in a day.
“From building new, high-tech fulfillment centers to retrofitting our regional distribution centers, we continue to modernize and transform our supply chain by adding game-changing automation technology to our facilities,” wrote Walmart in a statement.
The retail giant says these four new fulfillment centers alone will provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping on millions of items, and when they are combined with its traditional fulfillment centers, Walmart says it will reach 95% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping.
“Our priority is to strategically locate our [fulfillment centers] to pair most effectively with our 4,700 stores and 210 distribution centers. Together, this system of fulfillment assets is optimized to get orders to customers fast and efficiently. In this way we show our customers they need to look no further than Walmart to get what they need, when they need it,” wrote Walmart.
The centers will employ 4,000 workers, including in tech-focused jobs, such as control technicians, quality audit analysts and flow managers.
Last month, Walmart announced the expansion of its DroneUp delivery network to 34 sites in six states by the end the year, reaching up to four million U.S. households to deliver over one million packages by drone each year. Walmart also launched autonomous trucks for its online grocery sector, partnering with startup Gatik.
Walmart has said it is homing in on delivering convenience to its customers.
“We’ve watched in real time as people foundationally changed their shopping habits, spurred not just by a global pandemic, but by the expectation for availability to also mean convenience,” wrote Walmart. “That need for convenience led to six times the number of customers using delivery in the fourth quarter compared to pre-pandemic levels, signaling a huge change in how our customers shop.”