The pandemic amplified the demand for direct delivery, in-store, and curbside pick up. And, many operations simply couldn’t keep pace with Goliath’s like Amazon and Walmart. But, Micro-fulfillment is changing the game, leveling the playing field, and ushering in a new era of opportunity for retailers and grocery chains.
The era of Micro-Fulfillment & the “Mini-Warehouse”
“Micro-fulfillment brings the warehouse automation to the back of the store,” says Pat Fitzpatrick, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at McMurray Stern. “Automated micro-fulfillment solutions are allowing retailers and grocers of all sizes to begin closing the gap on [customer] demand and compete by bringing that service in-house.”
The tradeoff, Fitzpatick explains, is the retailer needs to give up retail floor space for automation. However, the benefit to the customer is clear in faster product assembly and order preparation which allows for in-store pick up or direct delivery same-day.
“It also means that the malls that were considered dead by many experts may have gained new life by being reimagined into a mini-automated warehouse,” Fizpatrick said.
There are many players in this space right now trying to figure out what the optimum solution for the industry will be. Fitzpatrick believes there will be many variants. Depending on the product being handled, temperature zones, speeds, and capital investment appetite, there are many types of solutions that will solve the problem.
Some automated solutions retailers and grocery chains are using include: Vertical Lift Modules, Shuttle Systems, Carousel Systems, Pouch Systems, and Automated Mobile Robots.
Fitzpatrick says it’s an exciting time to be in the micro-fulfillment space as these automated innovations are allowing retailers of all sizes and scales to grow. He says he’s happy to be finding new ways for retailers and grocers to overcome challenges in a competitive landscape through smart storage design combined with the right automated storage solutions.