Retail Giant Walmart has acquired the warehouse robotics firm that it has used since 2019 to automate the fulfillment of online grocery orders, one of the fastest growing e-commerce segments of the pandemic era.
Walmart bought Andover, Massachusetts-based Alert Innovation, a six-year-old startup which makes automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) products powered by robotic shuttles called Alphabots.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Arkansas-based Walmart first installed that product in 2019 at a “market fulfillment center” (MFC) in Salem, New Hampshire that it was adapting to handle soaring e-grocery demand. And by 2021, Walmart said it would expand that goods-to-person model to “dozens of locations, with many more to come,” fitting in to a fulfillment system alongside related technology from the system integrator Dematic and robotics startup Fabric.
Powered by that demand, Alert expanded in July to a bigger headquarters building within Massachusetts. At the time, company founder John Lert—namesake of the “Alert” name—said that his company’s fast growth was related to a trend for retail stores to evolve from hosting a basic self-serve shopping experience to doubling as e-commerce fulfillment sites that support same-day pickup and delivery offerings.
It was unclear whether Alert will continue to serve customers in the open market after its acquisition, but in a statement on Thursday, Lert implied it would serve only Walmart. “I am proud that Alert Innovation is one of the most innovative and capable automation companies in operation today. Our mission to improve people’s lives through innovation will now be dedicated to Walmart customers and associates which is an inspiring undertaking,” Lert said.
Either way, the move is part of a trend toward serving customers in new ways, according to Walmart executive David Guggina, the company’s senior vice president of innovation and automation for Walmart U.S. “We are committed to exceeding customer expectations and serving them in new ways, whether it’s in a store, curbside, or at their home. Bringing the best of Alert’s technology and capabilities in-house will enable us to reach more customers quicker by deploying MFCs with greater speed, providing both an unmatched shopping experience and a competitive advantage in omnichannel fulfillment.”