While much of the world is online today looking for Cyber Monday holiday shopping deals, there are still millions of physical retail stores in which customers need to drive to, park, walk the aisles and wait in lines to purchase groceries or consumer goods.
Even though options such as in-store pickup of online orders has grown in recent years, making sure that specific items are available at a particular store requires inventory storage space that many stores don’t have, which means orders need to be filled from regional distribution centers, lengthening the time it takes for customers to receive their orders. Moving targeted inventory closer to consumers is the goal of micro-fulfillment, and several companies are looking at automated retrieval and storage (AR/AS) systems to meet that goal.
AutoStore, which provides high-density inventory storage via a robotic cube-based AR/AS system, announced today it has evolved the system to accommodate increasing demands on retailers to change and stock inventory at speed, and to deliver goods to consumers within a same-day or several hour timeframe.
Consumer expectations rising
The company said consumers are demanding more choices, and are more willing to change brand allegiances to get better value and services. To remain competitive, retailers will need to have a presence across multiple channels – physical stores, online, social networking, and mobile. Same-day delivery and immediate local-store pickup are no longer perks for online shoppers, they are expectations, AutoStore said.
“AutoStore delivers the flexibility and scalability needed for streamlining automated fulfillment of online orders, which is absolutely critical to accommodate increasingly higher numbers of SKUs, and seasonal spikes in ordering,” said Karl Johan Lier, CEO and president of AutoStore. “[The system] gives retailers the flexibility to make more targeted decisions about where they believe automated micro-fulfillment will be most beneficial.”
Managing the fulfillment of consumer goods and groceries from regional distribution centers will not accommodate the customized needs of consumers, nor can it sustain cost efficiency, AutoStore said. This requires that retailers move to micro-fulfillment, which allows them to store ever-changing inventory within a warehouse, but also ensures that they are close enough to consumers.
The company’s Cube Storage Automation System aims to provide a system for micro-fulfillment at the retail level. It can store up to 15,000 SKUs within 604 square-meters, AutoStore said. With a modular design, the system can be configured to fit different store ceiling heights and obstacles within areas that include a back-of-house area for a grocery retailer, or in-store retail spaces for consumer products.
The system includes a 3D aluminum grid structure with self-supporting crates that are moved to pick stations via independently operating robots, to provide swift and accurate movement of orders, AutoStore said. Each robot has two sets of wheels that enable them to move along perpendicular axes, making it possible for all robots to reach any position, and any crate on the grid independently.
The company said that its pick-up points can “play a critical role in maintaining high-volume throughout for output workstations.” Online orders can be consolidated in less than 10 minutes, and confirmed in the system for customers to collect at any time. Orders can be retrieved from the system in just a few minutes, and customers can choose options to collect pre-picked orders, whether in-store or for home delivery.
AutoStore, which was founded in 1996, aims to marry software and hardware with human abilities to create the future of warehousing. The company’s systems have been installed in 28 countries over several industries, with systems designed, installed, and serviced by a network of qualified system integrators, which AutoStore refers to as partners. The company’s headquarters is in Nedre Vats, Norway, and has offices in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France.
“AutoStore’s technology and extensive use-case experience is now being leveraged for micro-fulfillment in e-commerce, where once again it is on the forefront providing automated solutions for retailers across a variety of sectors,” said Lier.