- A computer-based system that evaluates e-commerce orders and plans in-store shopping routes has enabled employees of Texas-based United Supermarkets to achieve picking speeds up to 160 items per hour, compared with a typical manual picking rate of 50 to 60 items per hour, according to emailed statistics from Mi9 Retail’s ThryveAI brand.
- United, which is owned by Albertsons, employs the system at 55 stores where it currently conducts picking operations, enabling workers to fulfill as many as eight orders at once, ThryveAI said.
- United’s drive to improve fulfillment speeds comes at a time when online sales remain a key driver for the supermarket industry even as overall sales growth has shown signs of slowing down.
According to ThryveAI, its mapping software helps pickers operate faster by allowing them to pick across the entire store instead of just a particular section. Employees use handheld devices that guide them around the store and display photos that help them locate items on shelves.
United began using the technology in four stores in 2016 in anticipation of being able to handle 1,050 to 1,400 orders per week at a single location, ThryveAI said. The grocer saw overall sales and order volume increase dramatically in early 2020 compared with the year before, according to the technology provider.
"The order volume United Supermarkets anticipated to do five years down the road became their reality seemingly overnight," ThryveAI noted in a case study that accompanied its announcement.
Founded in 2001, Mi9 offers various software solutions for grocers and other retailers. The company acquired MyWebGrocer in 2018 and launched the ThryveAI brand over the summer. In August, ThryveAI teamed up with technology firm Halla to add "taste intelligence" personalization capabilities to its e-commerce platform service.
The sustained surge in online grocery shopping that started with the onset of the pandemic has made technology that helps fulfill e-commerce orders a key focus for the supermarket industry. Grocers like Kroger, SpartanNash and Albertsons have continued to report sharp increases in orders for pickup and delivery as the health crisis has unfolded, providing an opportunity for technology companies to showcase their ability to help retail facilities cope with demand.
Much of the action in the automation space involves mechanized micro-fulfillment facilities and warehouses. Perhaps most notably, Kroger is working with U.K.-based robotics company Ocado to develop a network of high-capacity automated fulfillment centers across the United States, with the first of those facilities set to open in Ohio early next year.
But while they may be less heralded, efforts to improve fulfillment operations in grocery stores are also gaining momentum — a reflection of the critical role individual retail locations play in connecting online shoppers with the products they want. Kroger recently announced that Ocado is supplying it with software to improve its in-store fulfillment capabilities, while Schnuck Markets is using data collected by the inventory-management robots it uses to help Instacart shoppers locate items on shelves more efficiently.