Woolworths is testing technology that will see a hive of nimble robots picking and packing shoppers’ online grocery orders.
Woolworths is testing technology that will see a hive of nimble robots picking and packing shoppers’ online grocery orders.

Robots will soon do your Woolies shopping

Woolworths shoppers living in Melbourne's outer southeast will soon have their online orders picked and packed by a hive of nimble robots.

The nation's biggest supermarket chain will install the first of its mini-automated packing centres at its Carrum Downs store.

The cutting-edge technology will process non-fresh grocery items for online orders, speeding up the picking and packing process and cutting down on the number of staff walking the store's aisles.

Woolworths will house the "microfulfilment technology" in a 2400sqm facility to be built at the back of its Carrum Downs store.

It is testing the equipment from US-based Takeoff Technologies at three stores as it assess it for wider rollout.

A worker packs groceries at a Takeoff Technologies automated fulfilment centre.
A worker packs groceries at a Takeoff Technologies automated fulfilment centre.

Carrum Downs will be the only Australian test site, with the other two pilot facilities being built in Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand.

Woolworths e-commerce director Annette Karantoni said the retailer was experiencing rapid growth in online orders as customers sought more convenient ways to reclaim time in their busy lives.

"Our customers will only continue to look for faster and more flexible delivery options in the future," Ms Karantoni said.

"We believe smart fulfilment through our local store network is key to delivering this."

Woolworths e-commerce director Annette Karantoni
Woolworths e-commerce director Annette Karantoni

Online orders at Woolworths surged 30 per cent in the year to last June.

Both Woolworths and Coles are pushing heavily into automation as they look to cut costs, individualise local store ranges and speed up delivery times for online orders.

The grocery chains have built or are building huge robot-powered distribution centres that are transforming how product is shifted into stores.

But the two rivals are taking different approaches in how they fill their online orders.

Coles is building two automated warehouses in Melbourne and Sydney that are dedicated to processing these sales.

Woolworths is exploring a more decentralised route with the Takeoff Technology able to be bolted on the back of individual stores or contained within backroom storage areas.

The rise of artificial intelligence and automation has sparked warnings of mass job losses.

Corporate chiefs have argued the technology will change roles, wiping out some jobs but creating new ones.

Woolworths said the technology at Carrum Downs would not result in any job losses and staff would still be used of pick fresh items.

Coles last year announced it had entered into a partnership with British online supermarket specialist Ocado to build its two "multi-temperature, highly automated customer fulfilment centres".

The Australian grocer said the new warehouses would process $500 million to $750 million worth of online orders every year.

Under the deal, Coles agreed to use Ocado's software to operate its online supermarket.

john.dagge@news.com.au



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