It’s not a Transformer, but it is a robot.
That’s how Marshall Deats described the new 16-foot tall “Pickup Tower” in a Charlotte Walmart, a vending machine-esque structure designed to make it easier for customers to pick up online orders.
Customers who shop online and choose the “pick up in store” option can enter the store, walk up to the tower near the entrance and use a kiosk to scan a QR code on their phone. The tower dispenses the customer’s package in as little as 15 seconds.
It should take less than a minute for customers to receive their package from the time they walk into the store, Deats, a Walmart e-commerce market coach, said. The tower holds 300 packages, about 75 percent of the store’s typical online orders. If items don’t fit in the tower, an associate will bring it to the customer.
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The Callabridge Court store in northwest Charlotte is the second in the state to debut the tower and was chosen for its location near interstates and pickup traffic, Deats said. There aren’t current plans to add Pickup Towers to other Charlotte stores.
The tower took about two weeks to install and is part of a broader renovation to the Callabridge Court store, including a redesigned pharmacy, additional self-checkout lanes and wider aisles.
The store’s entryway transformed into a pep rally with mascots and pom-poms on Friday morning for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to mark the tower’s opening. The tower will give customers time and convenience they need, Market Manager Kou Yang said.
“You’re really helping people access their daily and weekly needs in a way that’s convenient for them,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts told Walmart employees.
Separate from the tower, customers can also order groceries online to be delivered to their car when they come to the store, an option available at 16 Charlotte locations. Walmart is piloting an outdoor grocery pickup kiosk in an Oklahoma store, which is open 24/7 and stores orders in refrigerators and freezers.
The automation and technology won’t reduce the store’s staff, Deats said, although it will change employees’ roles. Some associates now act as “personal shoppers” to fill online orders of groceries or merchandise.
Walmart’s technological advancements are just part of Charlotte’s changing business landscape, as businesses scramble to compete with the increasing popularity of online shopping. A 2016 survey from a supply chain management company JDA Software showed that 46 percent of respondents had purchased items online to pick them up in a store in the last year, a 33 percent increase from 2015.
“E-commerce is a game changer and part of our evolution as a company,” Deats said.
Amazon began offering its Prime Now delivery service in Charlotte last month, which promises delivery in 1-2 hours for Prime members on “tens of thousands of items.”
Online car dealer Carvana is planning to add a “car vending machine” to its South Boulevard distribution center. At the Nashville center, customers can order their car online and choose to pick their car up at a “vending machine.” When they come to the distribution center they select their name from a kiosk, where their car is automatically retrieved from a five-story tower and brought to a delivery bay.
Taylor Blatchford: 704-358-5354, @blatchfordtr