When it comes to online shopping, two companies come to mind. Walmart and Amazon, and both have strengths and weaknesses. Amazon is the go-to for many regular purchases and is generally the best price around. Walmart is one of the best for household goods and groceries, though Amazon is trying to overtake there.

Walmart recently announced its latest venture into online grocery ordering, and it could be a game changer. Alphabot is a robot that will pick your online grocery orders and prepare them for pickup, meaning you spend less time in the shopping giant’s store and workers have to do less, well, work. But is this really the future we want to live in?

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I still remember a time where Walmart had lobster tanks and I would be drug from store to store with my parents to go shopping for bread, milk, and cheese. Some of those memories were great, like when I could get a Hot Wheels car, but others were very meh, like when it took hours to go throughout Walmart because we made one trip every two weeks.

Back then we had to actually walk aisle to aisle and pick up our purchases, walk all the around the store, and eventually make that long trek back to the front of the store where we’d have to wait for one of the four open cashiers to check out our items. I mean, there were 24 lanes, but never were all 24 open at once.

These days, waiting in lines is non-existent. Walmart (and Sam’s Club) offer a service called “Scan and Go” that allows you to scan items while you walk around the store on your smartphone, giving you the ability to skip the line at the front and just walk straight to the exit.

Then you have services that allow you to purchase an item online and pick it up at a customer service counter, already paid for, and you just walk toward the exit. That’s where Walmart’s latest service takes shape. The company already offers an online grocery service, but orders are currently fulfilled by actual people, and Walmart wants to change that.

Alphabot, Walmart’s latest innovation, will work behind the scenes to help make the online grocery shopping process easier by automatically bringing items from storage to associates who can put the products in the proper order. This will mean less walking of the aisles for Walmart associates and is better for customers as it can pick up on efficiency, giving them a better experience overall.

This robot will debut at the Salem, New Hampshire location as part of the store’s grand re-opening with a 20,000 square foot extension that has drive-through lanes for grocery pickup customers. New automated mobile carts will soon retrieve ordered items and then deliver them to associates to package for pickup.

Alphabot is planned to be put online by the end of the year if everything goes as planned.

Though as we add more robotics to the shopping experience, human interaction inevitably goes down. I loved interacting with associates as we shopped around Walmart and other stores, and it was always great walking the aisles with my parents looking at new toys, food, and more that we wouldn’t have regularly picked out.

These grocery picking services, while efficient, cut down drastically on those “window shopping” opportunities we used to enjoy as children and could impact revenue across the board for companies that used to rely on that. I would never go into a Walmart with the intention of buying Hot Wheels, but since it was at the checkout, it always happened to end that way.

Do you like the idea of a robot shopping for you rather than doing it yourself? Let us know in the comments below or over on social media!

Over the past two years, we’ve piloted and implemented dozens of new technologies in stores across the country as we continue our quest to save precious time for our customers and associates. Today, we’re taking another big step on that journey by bringing cutting-edge automation tech into the backroom of a supercenter.

In collaboration with startup Alert Innovation, Walmart is set to launch a pilot using first-of-its-kind automation to help associates fill online grocery orders faster than ever before.

It’s called … Alphabot.

Our online grocery service is already a huge hit with customers, allowing them to quickly and conveniently order groceries online, select a pickup time and have those groceries delivered to their car in minutes. Alphabot will work behind the scenes to make the process even easier by automatically bringing items from storage to associates who will consolidate the items in the order. For our pickup associates, that means less time walking the store aisles in search of products and more time ensuring customers are getting the absolute best in fresh produce, meats, etc.

The Alphabot system, developed especially for Walmart, is being installed at the supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire, as a part of the store’s re-grand opening. A 20,000-square-foot extension connected to the storehouses the new system and will serve as a dedicated grocery pickup point with drive-thru lanes for customers. When completed, automated mobile carts will retrieve ordered items – stored warehouse-style in this new space – then deliver them to our associates at one of four pick stations. Our personal shoppers will then pick, assemble and deliver orders to customers. The vast majority of grocery products we offer in-store will be fulfilled through this system, though our personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items.

We plan to have Alphabot online and running by the end of the year. In the meantime, shoppers at our Salem store can expect our regular grocery pickup service to launch Oct. 1. We also plan to offer grocery delivery from the store in the coming months. Alphabot isn’t the only new tech going in during the store’s remodel. Customers will see our popular Pickup Tower for Walmart.com orders and an automated shelf-scanner that helps identify out-of-stock items, incorrect pricing, and missing labels. We’re also adding more technology that will directly assist associates in their work, including our FAST unloader and, later this year, Check Out With Me.

With the aid of Alphabot, our associates will have more time to focus on service and selling, the two things they often tell us are the most enjoyable part of the job, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks. Although this is a small pilot, we expect big things from it. We have a lot to learn about this new technology, and we’re excited about the possibilities of how we can use it to make the future of shopping – and working – even better.

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