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How Automation Can Solve The Grocery Dilemma

When the pandemic emerged and spread globally many consumers were forced to try online grocery shopping. Online grocery sales grew nearly 50% in what seemed to be overnight. Since the pandemic, online grocery shopping has increased in adoption and demand.

This, however, presented its own set of challenges. Traditional brick and mortar stores became packed with store associates fulfilling online customer orders. In store shoppers found it particularly difficult to navigate around the store, often being impeded by the uptick in traffic and finding fewer items on the shelves due to increased demand.

Micro-fulfillment centers emerged as a way accommodate the demands of both in store and online shoppers as they are flexible enough to accommodate a rapidly changing environment.

So, what is a micro-fulfillment center (MFC)? Typically, most MFC’s operate in a reduced footprint area and often utilize goods-to-person automated technology such as automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and robotics. A MFC “grid” offers very dense storage of products in totes. Oftentimes an employee will stand at the port of a workstation and robotic bins will present products to the employee to fill an order. This type of system allows very rapid order picking, often fulfilling 70% of an order, and maximizing output for the growing demand of online orders. Any remaining items that can’t be fulfilled by the system can then be manually picked by store employees.

This robotic automation storage system can be located within a grocery store or in a nearby location. Many retailers are building MFC’s in a dark store or centralized location to support curbside pickup for multiple retail locations.