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Albertsons eyes its own e-commerce infrastructure

Albertsons eyes its own e-commerce infrastructure

Tech partnership called “major step” in becoming online grocery leader

Albertsons Cos. has entered a technology partnership to begin building a back-end infrastructure for e-commerce.

The Boise, Idaho-based grocer said late Thursday that it has teamed up with e-grocery automation startup Takeoff Technologies to pilot a hyperlocal micro-fulfillment center with an existing store. Takeoff’s artificial intelligence-enabled robots can collect items for online grocery orders in minutes, at a fraction of the speed and cost of manual-picking processes. 

With the move, Albertsons said it’s the first national grocer to implement an automated e-commerce fulfillment solution for customers.

Narayan Iyengar, senior vice president for digital and e-commerce at Albertsons, called the partnership “a major step in our commitment to being a customer-centric player in the digital food and wellness ecosystem.”

“Investing in e-commerce directly benefits our customers, and anything that we can do to simplify their grocery shopping experience to save valuable time is a win,” Iyengar said in a statement. “While our partnership with Takeoff Technologies will streamline e-commerce fulfillment and improve our efficiencies, we’re excited that Takeoff’s AI solution will make it even easier for customers to get their groceries how and when they want.”

The solution works as follows: Albertsons customers enter their grocery orders online or via a mobile device, and the orders are routed to the automated system. Takeoff’s facility then takes over the fulfillment process. The AI-enabled robots and a system of totes and conveyors deliver the items to an Albertsons employee, who prepares the orders for customers.

The companies noted that the system slashes the amount of time for individual customer orders to be processed. And the automated warehouse is replenished daily, just as supermarket store shelves are stocked regularly, they said.

“Our e-grocery automation is a turnkey solution that uses artificial intelligence to unlock ultimate convenience for shoppers without need of charging fees or a price premium,” said Max Pedro, co-founder and president of Waltham, Mass.-based Takeoff.

Albertsons said it partnered with Takeoff because its solution is ready for implementation now. The retailer, which has nearly 2,300 stores in 35 states, noted that Takeoff’s model leverages the existing supply chain and store footprint and is flexible in picking various types of products. 

Takeoff has reported that it’s working with five regional and national U.S. retail chains and plans to deploy several automated fulfillment sites next year. The company is targeting compact, vertical spaces to develop hyperlocal facilities that are an eighth of the footprint of a typical supermarket. Retailers use their existing e-commerce platform or Takeoff’s customized user interface for taking online grocery orders. For the robotics technology, Takeoff has an exclusive agreement with Knapp, a global provider of automated warehouse solutions.

Earlier this month, Miami-area grocer Sedano’s Supermarkets announced a pilot of a Takeoff automated fulfillment center with 14 of its stores. Takeoff also has been working with Ahold Delhaize USA on a mini robotic warehouse to assemble orders for its Peapod online grocery subsidiary.

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