As shopping habits have changed, consumers have been conditioned to receive their online orders within one to two days. The evolution of e-commerce is driving the need for more labor, but with a lack of labor in this industry, factories are looking for advanced technologies to continue to deliver to consumers in record time.

Online grocery shopping is one area that has trended upward in recent years. Its popularity has created a paradigm shift in how technologies are applied. Historically, e-commerce orders have been fulfilled by large facilities designed to ship thousands of orders a day, typically within 75 miles.

But because of last-mile delivery costs and demand for quicker deliveries, the shift is now toward “micro-fulfillment centers” — small facilities attached to an existing brick-and-mortar retail location. These hubs are mostly automated, using the same technology that has been used by larger order fulfillment centers. Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) technology can pick an order in under 20 minutes in these micro-fulfillment centers.

While many continue to use their tried-and-true fulfillment strategies, an emergence of startups has created new shuttle technology for shipment facilities. Fabric, Exotec and Geek+, for example, use a combination of shuttle technology and mobile robots. These technologies are a hybrid of existing traditional ASRS, but are refined for the smaller spaces required by micro-fulfillment centers. Geek+ goes so far as having the mobile robots automatically store and retrieve directly from the racks. These new technologies are better suited for e-grocery by providing scalable systems that require less space and can be implemented much faster than traditional ASRS technology.

The shift toward micro-fulfillment centers will continue to challenge existing technology and its application, as well as push for new strategies that fit smaller-scale facilities.

Another change in the fulfillment industry is the development of a new kind of supermarket that can keep up with the increase in e-commerce orders. These new markets combine automated distribution centers and traditional supermarkets. This means consumers can order most of their dry goods online or via a kiosk and an automated system or robot located in the back of the market will retrieve the items and have them ready for pickup or sent out for home delivery. The front of these new markets remains a traditional supermarket with fresh produce and meats — the items that consumers prefer to select themselves.

It’s an exciting time for e-commerce grocery shopping. As an industry that had not been phased by automation for a long time, a combination of the “have to have it now” consumer trend along with new technologies will change the future of the supermarket from what we know today.


Distribution centers, manufacturing facilities and e-commerce operations are turning to automated storage systems to improve efficiency and meet high consumer expectations. Learn how to implement these systems to best fit your business needs.

Read the White Paper

Alfredo Valadez is a project manager providing integrated automation solutions for Burns & McDonnell, working from the firm's office in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. He has extensive hands-on experience designing, specifying and selling leading industrial automated solutions for manufacturing and warehouse environments across a variety of industries.