Albertsons is bringing in robots to pack its online grocery orders

  • It is costly and time consuming for retailers to manually put together deliveries to fulfill their online orders.
  • Albertsons is partnering with Takeoff Technologies to automate the process.
  • Kroger and Walmart have also experimented with their own approaches to automation.
Albertsons signage.
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Albertsons signage.

Grocery giant Albertsons is looking to automate one of the biggest headaches when it comes to delivery: putting together the basket of items.

In the past, when people order their groceries from an Albertsons store online, an employee would walk around the store picking up items to pack for delivery. Such a process can be costly and time consuming because stores lay out their products to appeal to people's shopping patterns, not to achieve the most efficient path to filling a basket.

Now, Albertsons on Tuesday announced a trial partnership with Takeoff Technologies at the Grocery Shop conference in Las Vegas. With it, the grocer will employ technology instead of employees for the effort.

Albertsons will portion off selected locations, where it will store a number of items popular with online orders. Artificial intelligence-enabled technology and conveyors will then bring the goods to an Albertsons employee, who will manually compile the order.

Albertsons said Tuesday the company chose Takeoff because it is able to implement its technology today and it works well with the grocer's current supply chain and footprint. Albertsons also owns stores like Safeway.

It will initially launch Takeoff as a pilot before deciding whether to scale it more broadly.

Takeoff is just one of many technologies that have emerged to automate the picking process for online delivery. Kroger inked a partnership with British online supermarket Ocado in May, through which the company automates the process of online delivery prep in warehouses, rather than in the store. Walmart in August launched Alphabot in partnership with Alert Innovation.

In the meantime, newer brands like Israel-based CommonSense Robotics have emerged to offer technology to regional grocers.

The technology, though, is young and therefore still largely unproven. What's also unknown is what shoppers will ultimately value the most in online delivery, including variables such as cost or speed. With significant expense attached to many automation technologies, grocers have been dipping their toes to experiment with a number of different technologies to fortify their business.

Albertsons, for example has acquired meal kit company Plated, expanded its partnership with delivery service Instacart and launched a digital marketplace for smaller brands.

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