Lead Forensics

Will micro fulfillment centres replace large warehouses?

Takeoff, a company in Boston, USA, has developed what they call micro fulfillment centres, small automated grocery fulfilment centres which are designed to be set up in or next to existing supermarkets.

Online orders are usually picked and packed in large warehouses then dispatched to the customer. The customer can receive items by the next day after ordering. Sometimes, customers want a quicker service, and e-retailer Amazon operates a one-hour service from small warehouses near major cities that hold high demand products. This service is unavailable for people living in smaller towns, not near major cities.

Takeoff provides a service where the customer can place a grocery order using a Takeoff smartphone app. The order can either be picked up or delivered half an hour later. Automated bins deliver items to packing stations where humans pack the orders. Some larger items are still picked by human workers using warehouse trolleys. The Takeoff bin system is high so that a large ground space is not needed.

The system takes only a few months to assemble, compared to up to three years for building and equipping a large fulfillment centre.

Miniature fulfilment centres do not have to be restricted to groceries. Any small out of town industrial estate have buildings suitable for miniature fulfilment centres for a variety of goods.

Jose Vicente Aguerrevere, co-founder of Takeoff, believes that the online retailing experience is ripe for disruption. Eventually, miniature fulfillment centres could replace large ones like those operated by Amazon, and half-hourly deliveries could become normal.

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