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Consider an automated fulfillment solution for customers in stores and shopping centers

Christian Walby 20 February 2024
Reading Time: 7 min.
There has been quite a lot of talk and plenty written in recent years about urban fulfillment centers and micro fulfillment centers (UFCs and MFCs). That is, small, automated, and customer-proximate inventories that are increasingly located in retail stores and shopping centers–often in cities and areas with relatively high population density and throughput. The aim is to reduce delivery times, take advantage of existing premises and staff, and offer customers an increased level of service and a better shopping experience.
Swisslog automated fulfillment solution

The phenomenon accelerated in the wake of COVID-19 when same-day delivery and pick-up at or in stores rapidly increased. This change in consumer behavior has persisted and requires increased speed, productivity, and creativity in goods handling and delivery. An urban fulfillment center is an effective solution for managing a growing e-commerce and omnichannel flow. The customer-oriented automated facilities are compact and contribute to faster deliveries, more efficient order management in stores, and a reduced need for transport.

Automation meets consumer–BOPIS

Stores and shopping centers are increasingly installing automated UFCs are increasingly to utilize existing space and staff, who can assist with product delivery and returns. This solution is called BOPIS (Buy online, pick-up in store).

Well worth considering here is an innovative, smart, and efficient solution that consists of a combination of a small, compact, and scalable AutoStore unit and a PickUpPort.

The latter is a new AutoStore solution, designed for installation in both existing and newly built stores. The solution entails that consumers can pick up their ordered goods themselves whenever they like, much the same as with a delivery box. The difference, of course, is that the proven AutoStore robot solution provides significantly higher security and much improved utilization of storage space due to its high density. In addition, store staff can easily and quickly consolidate multiple orders for a particular customer so that they can be delivered together when the customer chooses to pick up their items.

ASRS Innovation of the Year

The recently launched PickUpPort has received a lot of attention. This past summer, the innovative solution was named the ASRS Innovation of the Year by the SupplyTech Breakthrough Awards program. An AutoStore unit combined with a PickUpPort becomes a last-mile solution that provides multiple benefits at the same time: compact, customer-centric storage, better staff utilization, faster delivery, better sustainability, and increased customer service. In addition, I can guarantee that a delivery solution of this kind will generate plenty of positive feedback and more satisfied and loyal customers.

Major potential

HEB urban fulfillment center

UFCs are increasingly in demand around the world. A couple of years ago, for example, Swisslog was commissioned to build several urban fulfillment centers for the Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B, with over 400 stores and 110,000 employees.

Here in the Nordic region, we've also delivered two UFCs to the Finnish grocery trade, and we see major potential throughout the entire retail sector. The competitive Nordic retail sector, including e-commerce, is facing a growing need to offer consumers fast and convenient delivery solutions that help them piece together their everyday routines. 

To sum up, I can say that there is much to gain from investing in UFC solutions for stores and shopping centers. The level of service to customers increases, lead times are reduced, and store space and staff are better utilized in interactions with customers. And most importantly, the shopping experience is better, which drives both customer loyalty and increased sales. 

I'll conclude as I started with a wish that retailers, including e-commerce, broaden their horizons a bit and take a closer look at this type of solution for inventory management and deliveries.

About the author
Christian Walby

Sales Manager Europe

More about Christian Walby
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