Walmart Inc is building a high-speed grocery warehouse to solidify its position as the nation’s biggest grocer.
The new distribution center in Shafter, California — halfway between Los Angeles and Fresno — is set to open in the fall of 2020 and will move products in and out 40 percent faster than the company’s existing warehouses, Walmart said in a blog post on Thursday.
The building will be equipped with automation technology from Witron, a German supplier of logistics services.
The new center is Walmart’s latest investment to grow its grocery business, which accounts for more than half of US sales and is a bulwark against Amazon.com Inc’s encroachment.
The retailer has improved the presentation and quality of its fresh food and is expanding curbside pickup and home-delivery options.
However, getting strawberries and cantaloupes from fields to stores is still a complex, expensive process, and any time saved along the journey translates into increased sales and profits.
“Speed will be the name of the game for us,” Walmart logistics senior vice president Tim Cooper said in a video accompanying the post.
In the new warehouse, robots would stack and load products more rapidly and efficiently, helping to maximize the available space on trucks that trundle off to Walmart stores.
That should help reduce transportation costs, which have soared of late and will remain a headwind in the coming year, finance chief Brett Biggs said at an investors’ presentation this week.
Walmart is also piloting devices that unload products in store backrooms faster and testing so-called micro fulfillment centers that automate the process of picking online grocery orders.
Walmart this week said that it would have grocery pickup in 3,100 stores by the end of its next fiscal year, up from just 50 a few years ago.
Separately, Amazon is opening its first office in Manchester, England, and expanding two other centers to house 1,000 new research-and-development (R&D) staff in what it said was a major new investment in British innovation.
The company is to create 600 new corporate and development jobs in Manchester, take on an additional 250 people at its development center in Edinburgh, and add 180 roles in Cambridge, England, it said on Thursday.
Amazon UK country manager Doug Gurr said that Britain was taking a leading role in the company’s global innovation.
“These are Silicon Valley jobs in Britain and further cement our long-term commitment to the UK,” he said.
The new engineers are to work on technology, including personalized shopping recommendations, machine learning, Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa, AWS (Amazon Web Services) and its drone delivery project Prime Air, it said.
Since 2010, Amazon said it had invested more than ￡9.3 billion (US$12.15 billion) in Britain and was on course to employ 27,500 people — including more than 6,500 in its corporate, AWS and R&D divisions — by the end of the year.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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