Research by Joel Provenzano 

The construction of the auto dispense towers at the New Tampa Walmart on BBD Blvd. should be completed and open for business by early 2024. (Photo by Joel Provenzano).

A few issues ago, we told you about the New Tampa Walmart’s drone delivery of a surprise reward for two teachers at Clark Elementary. 

The New Tampa location is still one of very few Walmart stores nationwide, and one of fewer than ten in Florida, to offer drone deliveries. 

But, for those who couldn’t help but notice the long-term construction at the New Tampa Walmart (especially anyone trying to access the store from Wharton High), the news about that construction is that the local Walmart store will be the first in Florida — and only the second in the country — to offer robotic/automated customer fulfillment pods for pickup orders. Walmart calls them “auto dispense towers” and the corresponding area inside the store as a Market Fulfillment Center (MFC). 

Items (including groceries) will be run in blue containers on a rail system that runs through (and inside of) the thick blue part of the ceiling structure, from inside the store, and then down to waiting vehicles parked under the awnings that cover the parking area (see top photo on this page). 

Customers awaiting their pickup orders put in a code, and their groceries and other items are transported through the ceiling out the door in front of their vehicles. There are eight dedicated parking spaces for customers to pick up from these digital auto dispense towers. There also are an extra four loading spaces to the right of the large doors for ‘other’ customer orders — including for large items, etc., where employees will manually bring the items out to waiting vehicles. 

The very large “fulfillment center” area behind the newly constructed pharmacy inside of Walmart is where products will be pulled in an automated fashion to fill orders. There will be refrigeration for cold items. Employees also will be back there to ensure orders are filled correctly. 

It may be hard to understand how the auto dispensing works without being able to see it, so we have provided some photos from Walmart’s recently begun pilot program at its Store 100 in Bentonville, AR, near the company’s headquarters. 

The MFC is built inside the store and is powered by a proprietary storage and retrieval system – named Alphabot. Walmart believes fulfillment through digitization and connecting its store and supply chain assets end to end will transform order fulfillment. And, along with it, the company believes, this should improve customer satisfaction and offer more opportunities for associates. 

“This new order fulfillment system is truly game changing,” said Ryan Simpson, the store manager at Walmart’s Store 100. “Not only does it enhance the customer experience through quicker, more accurate online order fulfillment, it also provides us the runway to continue growing our business now and in the future.” 

Once the fulfillment center opens, Walmart management believes that customers can expect to see the benefits of the MFC almost immediately. 

A Walmart associate in Bentonville helps load a customer’s groceries. (All photos from Walmart Corp.) 

MFCs will significantly increase the number of orders the store is able to fulfill in a day, promising faster fulfillment with lower substitutions. Walmart+ members have even more to look forward to, with free unlimited delivery. MFCs also improve the in-store shopping experience by freeing up associates to help customers shopping in-store. 

“I love the MFC,” says Gilbert Giron, MFC digital team lead at Walmart. “The dedicated space allows us to concentrate on picking items for our online customers. I feel confident that the items our associates are looking for are going to be there when a customer wants them. I know our team is providing our customers with great service.” 

When Will Ours Open? 

Walmart began the permitting process for the New Tampa store’s new addition back in the fall of 2021. 

According to the plans filed, the inside portion of the new MFC area will take up approximately 27,000 sq. ft. inside the Walmart building. This will be one of the first operational ones in the nation with this new technology. 

The staff at the New Tampa Walmart stated that they expect the new system to be open for customers by sometime early in 2024. They explained that once the construction has been completed, they will need to test the system and run trials to smooth out any kinks. 

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