Could Instacart be about to automate its fulfilment centres?

US same-day B2C delivery company Instacart has shown an interest in developing fully automated micro-fulfilment centres. The company currently uses half a million staff to pick and pack orders for its customers.

Last year Instacart sent out proposals to ‘at least five’ robotics companies to see about fully automated dark store fulfilment centres, according to the Financial Times. One of those companies it Alert Innovations that is installing robots at Walmart’s fulfilment centres, though Alert is known to have declined. It has continued discussions with other firms.

There are some fears among grocery chains that Instacart has long term plans to use its existing infrastructure to launch a grocery business of its own, and as such plans to automate the fulfilment process has met opposition from its clients thanks to their unwillingness to further integrate the delivery company into their businesses than they already have. There is also some question as to whether automated fulfilment centres can be as efficient as humans at the current time.

In a statement to the Financial Times, Instacart said, “While we have no updates to share today, we’re constantly evaluating our services in deep partnership with the nearly 600 retailers we work with,” it said. “Instacart’s entire product and model is predicated on being a chief ally to our retail partners.”

It added: “We’re committed to supporting our brick-and-mortar partners and continuing to invest in and explore new tools and technologies that support the needs of their customers and further enable their businesses to grow and scale over the long term.”