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Finding the Right Automation for Grocery Ecommerce: 3 Proven Technologies

Alex Haines | 15 September 2021

By now, we all know the headache that is the world of grocery ecommerce. Between a global pandemic, supply chain issues, product shortages and changing consumer demands, many grocers are scrambling to make the best decision for their customers and their bottom line.

The industry transitioning from “how a grocer is going to automate the instore fulfillment process?” to “how are they going to optimize the whole process, including last mile delivery?”

Brick Meets Click data showed that online grocery sales for pickup or delivery were $6.6 billion in April of this year. That’s down from the $7.1 billion in grocery e-commerce sales in March of this year, but up from $5.3 billion in April 2020.

Online Grocery Sales Chart

Reducing the labor spend for filling orders in the store is the first step; what follows is a strategy that can help reduce the overall cost of getting orders into the hands of customers, regardless of the hand-off location.

Being a high-volume and low-margin industry, grocers need microfulfillment automation and technologies that are proven, scalable, dense, fast AND have a quick, high return on investment, like these:

Automated Goods to Person Systems

A modern method of order fulfillment, combining automated storage with accurate, ergonomic picking processes. Products are stored within the system and automatically transported directly to the operator as needed for picking, eliminating wasteful travel time. Workstation screens display exactly which item needs to be picked, eliminating order errors. Goods to person technologies are easily scalable to match growing demand or an increase in SKUs - These systems allow for an impressive increase in efficiency and accuracy of the picking process.


An innovative storage solution that allows complete configurability and flexibility. Utilized in multiple temperature zones, bins are stacked vertically in a grid and retrieved by robots that travel on the top layer of the system. This makes it possible for the grid to be placed around columns, on mezzanines, and on multiple levels. AutoStore is extremely flexible and scalable, making it an ideal solution for back of store microfulfillment or retrofitting existing spaces to create microfulfillment centers.

Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs):

Commonly used to assist manual picking operations, AMRs can offer improved efficiencies with lower capital expense.  Grocers can implement AMRs with little to no facility modifications and a vast number of benefits - improved safety, labor cost reduction and extreme flexibility to match changes in demand, to name a few.

Warehouse Execution Software

The objective of a Warehouse Execution System (WES) is for highly automated facilities to coordinate labor and equipment through dynamic optimization through real time inputs. The operator can apply the knowledge gained from the WES reporting features to optimize the operations of the distribution center. Bastian Solutions’ Exacta WES is designed to be interchangeable and modified to accommodate to any situation, eliminating the need to pay for expensive software packages that include modules unfit for your business, and to accommodate easy, low-cost expansion as grocery ecommerce continues growing.

Sortation Systems

Sortation systems are often designed to meet the growing demand for smaller order sizes, increased shipping accuracy, and more frequent shipments while improving efficiency in your distribution operations. Sortation is an ideal grocery solution for separating products from in-feed conveyor lines to shipping lanes, palletizing operations, packing stations & other sortation applications. These systems are versatile and can sort a wide range of product sizes and weights to multiple divert lanes.

Tompkins t-Sort:

This innovative robotic solution offers flexibility to meet seasonal peaks, requires minimal space, and can handle a wide variety of products and parcels.

The t-Sort features independently moving robots that transport products across a raised platform from an induction station to a designated divert. Operators can manually batch-pick orders, then place to the t-Sort system for sortation - the t-Sort can also be paired with a goods to person system (like AutoStore) for larger amounts of batch picking and route sequencing. This system is a great alternative to traditional sorters with faster implementation, lower capital cost, and the flexibility to add robots or induction stations as needed. For grocers, the flexibility and lower upfront cost lend well to retrofitting existing stores for e-fulfillment.

Justifying the Business Case for Automation

The growth and addition of third-party grocery delivery services and increase in grocery ecommerce demand could find large grocers stuck between a rock and a hard place. While the capital investment of automation is daunting, the return on investment – and protection of market share – outweigh the cost significantly. According to this chart from L.E.K. Insights, microfulfillment centers are likely the best option to keep costs low.

Costs of online grocery fulfillment distrbution models

These technologies and automation systems have been delivering extremely positive results for many years in the retail, pharmaceutical and electronics spaces. For instance, sporting goods distributor PUMA utilized Exacta and AutoStore to consolidate facilities and triple operator units per hour, and apparel company Adore Me doubled order throughput with AutoStore.

Allow Bastian Solutions to create the perfect grocery microfulfillment solution for your business – talk to an engineer today!

Author: Alex Haines

Alex Haines is a New Business Development Manager at Bastian Solutions. Alex works with customers across various industries, looking for opportunities to help clients automate their supply chain to address both the pain points and opportunities posed by rapidly changing customer demands. Alex has 14 years of experience in global supply chain strategy, operations, and sales.


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