Automated Drive-Up Grocery Kiosks Hit the Market

Modular units can be built onto existing stores and can retrieve online orders in less than a minute
Photograph courtesy of Bell and Howell

An automated drive-up kiosk capable of retrieving customer grocery orders in as little as 45 seconds is now available to retailers nationwide, according to its creator, Bell and Howell.

The Durham, N.C.-based company’s BH QuickCollect is a modular system that can be added to an existing retail building or used as a stand-alone structure. It is designed, installed and managed by Bell and Howell, with partners KPS Global, a Fort Worth, Texas-based refrigeration company; and Viscon Logistics, a Dutch firm specializing in food logistics.

A version of the QuickCollect kiosk, with the code name "Ajax 2.0," is already in test phase at at least one Walmart store. For Walmart, the unit succeeded an earlier iteration of a stand-alone automated pickup facility it tested and subsequently retired in Oklahoma City. That unit failed in part because condensation issues made order retrievals difficult and that consumers didn’t like its setting in a parking field, which was subject to high winds, according to Mark Ibbotson, EVP of central operations for Walmart, Bentonville, Ark.

Bell and Howell is also the U.S. representative of Cleveron, manufacturer of the “Rapunzel” automated pickup towers that distribute online general merchandise orders in Walmart stores. Those units are now in hundreds of Walmart Supercenters.

The new drive-up kiosks similarly offer a solution to address customer demand for convenience, while helping retailers get better productivity out of fast-growing but often inefficient click-and-collect grocery offerings. The units can operate 24 hours a day while keeping food orders at appropriate temperatures as they await customer pickup.

“As online shopping continues to grow in popularity and convenience, customers are beginning to expect these types of self-service pickup options,” Larry Blue, president and CEO of Bell and Howell, said in a release.

The QuickCollect’s automated merchandise retrieval system provides customers with drive-up pickup stations that are built directly into the kiosk, with dedicated parking directly in front of each station. Customers scan a unique QR code sent when an order is ready for pickup. Their online order is then delivered in as little as 45 seconds.

According to specifications published by Bell and Howell, the units are 20 feet high and 11 feet wide, can accommodate between 200 and 2,000 delivery totes, and can serve up to seven customers at a time.

“What we’ve accomplished here is unprecedented,” Joe Zuech, VP of manufacturing and grocery pickup for Bell and Howell, said in a statement. “We’ve brought other leading solution providers and combined them with Bell and Howell technology and know-how to deliver a world-class drive-up and grocery pickup experience designed to provide the most convenient shopping experience possible.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Bell and Howell as the manufacturer of the pickup towers utilized in Walmart's U.S. stores. Those units are manufactured by the Estonian company Cleveron, which utilizes Bell and Howell as its U.S. representative.



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