A Speedier Superstore
By Georgia Flight

(Business 2.0) – Wal-Mart may stock just about everything you need, but you still have to actually go inside the store to get it. Soon you might be able to pick up your groceries, dry cleaning, office supplies, prescription meds, and DVD rentals without leaving your car. That's the goal of AutoCart, a high-tech drive-through superstore set to debut next spring. Customers will be able to place orders 24 hours a day and drive to AutoCart to retrieve their purchases.

By the end of next year, AutoCart plans to unveil the first of its 130,000-square-foot supercenters, each of which will carry more than 25,000 products and serve as many as 12,000 cars per day. The company will test the concept in May 2006 with AutoCart Limited, a 10,000-square-foot version in Las Cruces, N.M., near its headquarters. So far, it has inked a deal with 250-store dry-cleaning chain Comet Cleaners; it's also in talks with music vendor CD Warehouse and AmerisourceBergen, one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical distributors. AutoCart president Steven Beardsley says the low overhead costs and theft-reduction perks will eventually attract big-name brands like Albertsons and Walgreens.

FKI Logistex, which handles distribution for Target and Kmart, is in charge of the high-speed conveyor belts that will move goods through AutoCart's stores. "AutoCart will be successful because it's safe and efficient," says Al Jervinsky, the FKI systems sales manager overseeing the AutoCart project. But Janet Hoffman, a partner with Accenture's North American retail practice, cautions that the concept will not appeal to everyone. "For parents with young children, going to Wal-Mart is also entertainment," she says. "AutoCart will have to compete with that." Perhaps it's a place to go when the kids are asleep in their car seats.