Briefing

Instacart explores adding automation to fulfillment process

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The San Francisco-based company that pays more than 500,000 gig workers to shop for and deliver customer orders sent out proposal requests to several companies that build robotic warehouses. (Financial Times)

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Talking point: Instacart, which sent the requests last spring, initially said it wants to open up to 50 such warehouses in the U.S. in about a year, according to sources. Instacart partners—which include several Loblaw brands, as well as Costco and Walmart in Canada—have long feared it may one day attempt to cut them out of its business model. Instacart, which has denied that’s what its future holds, is expected to go public in the first half of 2021—something that’s been on the horizon for years, with a big challenge in its unhappy workforce. Automated warehouses appear to be the future of a booming online grocery business: Sobeys partnered with U.K.-based Ocado Group in 2018 to build multiple automated fulfillment centres in Canada; Metro is building two automated facilities with German company Witron; and Walmart is also looking to build several robot-staffed local fulfillment centres.