Robots May Soon Assist In-Store And Curbside Shoppers Pick Their Groceries

Swisslog, a provider of warehouse automation and software, has partnered with San Antonio-based HEB to support the company’s growing demand for online fulfillment and customers’ demand for curbside and delivery services.

Swisslog is working with the grocery chain to deploy a number of automated micro-fulfillment centers to support those services, which have grown in popularity as shoppers look for ways to safely conduct daily activities within COVID-19 protocols, particularly social distancing.

The company offers to lay out micro-fulfillment centers next to existing grocery stores or in stand-in alone buildings. Neither HEB or Swisslog would comment on which style HEB is opting to use.

A representative of Swisslog explained that a curbside customer would order items, and robotic carts would fetch those items, instead of employees finding those items themselves. The system’s designers hope that could allow employees to focus on other in-store chores, including other forms of customer service.

Robots fetching items for curbside customers would also help customers who elect to shop in the store themselves. Employees would not be in their way in the aisles blocking shelves to load carts for customers waiting outside.

Shoppers pick up their items at pick stations at the micro-fulfillment centers. The robotic carts can also put together orders for deliveries.

“Swisslog is pleased H-E-B put their trust in us to automate and support their facilities with state-of-the-art automation and software,” said Mitch Hayes, vice president of e-commerce and retail, Swisslog Logistics Automation, Americas. “COVID-19 and anticipated behavioral changes have created increased urgency around the need for automation within many grocery operations. E-grocery automation is no longer an option. … It’s a requirement for survival and continued growth.”

H-E-B’s new micro-fulfillment centers feature AutoStore empowered by Swisslog’s SynQ software and pick stations.

It was not immediately clear when these systems would be in place or which H-E-B stores would see their installation. H-E-B representatives referred TPR’s requests for comment to Swisslog.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.

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