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Image: Leigh Henningham/Woolworths

Woolworths has deployed its first micro-automation technology in the e-commerce facility located at the back of its existing Melbourne-based Carrum Downs supermarket, in a bid to speed up the delivery of online grocery orders.

The supermarket giant claims to be the first in Australia to deploy the Takeoff technology, which has been designed to sort and move up to 10,000 grocery products from automated storage units to team members that are handpicking customer orders. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat will continue to be handpicked from the shop floor, Woolworth said.

According to Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci, automating the picking of products will help dispatch five times the online order volume of a standard Woolworths store.

“As customer expectations continue to rise, we’re investing in new technology to keep pace with the growth and focusing on building an ever more convenient online offer,” he said.

“The micro-fulfilment technology in this e-store is a potential game-changer. It will help us deliver unparalleled speed and accuracy in the online picking process while keeping us close to our customers for faster and more flexible deliveries to the home.”

See also: Map shows how COVID-19 has a major impact on e-commerce (TechRepublic)

Banducci added how introducing the technology would reduce congestion on the shop floor, as personal shoppers will be able to pick and pack items at the back of house, as well as boost the availability of same-day delivery.

Carrum Downs is the first of three initial Woolworths sites to trial the technology. Woolworths confirmed the two other sites will be in Auckland and Christchurch, New Zealand. It also has plans to introduce the technology to another site in Australia, with details of its location to be confirmed.

Woolworths saw online orders skyrocket during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in temporary shortages and forced the company to “temporarily pause” its click-and-collect services nationally. Since then, Woolworths has established partnerships with Sherpa, Drive Yellow, and Uber to get more online orders delivered to customers. 

In June, the grocery giant signalled it would invest between AU$700 million and AU$780 million in technology and fitouts over the next four years as part of plans to build an automated regional and distribution centre and a semi-automated national distribution centre at Moorebank Logistics Park in Sydney.

For the full year ending 28 June 2020, Woolworths reported e-commerce sales through WooliesX, the digital arm of its business, grew by 43% on a normalised basis from AU$1.4 billion to AU$2 billion. This contributed to the company’s total group sales of AU$64 billion, which grew 8% from AU$60 million last financial year.

Meanwhile, total group online sales lifted 42% to AU$3.52 billion during the full year.

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