Sunday, January 24, 2021

Walmart will test grocery deliveries to customers’ homes

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The Walmart+ home screen on a laptop computer arranged in the Brooklyn Borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Walmart already drops off groceries to customers’ doors and in some cities, it puts them directly inside of their refrigerator. The company said Tuesday that it will soon test another convenient approach: deliveries to a smart cooler on customers’ front porches or near their doorsteps.

Starting in the spring, the big-box retailer said it will kick off a pilot in its hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas. It will provide participating customers with a temperature-controlled smart cooler that’s called a HomeValet. The cooler will be placed outside of their home, allowing for secure and contact-free grocery deliveries around the clock.

“The prospect of this technology is intriguing, both for customers and for Walmart’s last mile delivery efforts,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product at Walmart U.S., in a post on the company’s website. “For customers, they don’t need to plan their day around when their grocery delivery will be made. For Walmart, it presents an opportunity to deliver items 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

He said the retailer doesn’t yet have plans for 24/7 deliveries, however.

Walmart will test grocery deliveries to a HomeValet, a smart cooler that’s placed outside of customers’ homes.

Walmart is the largest grocer in the U.S. and it has made free, unlimited grocery deliveries a central perk of its new subscription-based service, Walmart+. The service, which launched in September, costs $98 a year or $12.95 a month compared with Amazon Prime, which costs $119 a year or $12.99 a month. It includes other perks, such as fuel discounts and access to a smartphone app that allows shoppers to skip the checkout line.

The retail giant launched its grocery delivery service in 2018. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Walmart and other retailers have seen online grocery shopping gain popularity. Customers are looking for convenient and contact-free ways to stock their pantries and fridges ranging from home deliveries through services like Instacart to curbside pickup outside of a retailer’s store.

Even before the global health crisis, Walmart experimented with new grocery delivery options. In 2019, it launched a membership program called InHome grocery delivery in select cities that puts fresh fruit, meats and other groceries directly into customers’ fridges for $19.95 per month. It requires additional security measures, including a smart door lock kit or smart garage door kit at shoppers’ homes and a background check and additional training for employees.

The service is still operating in select cities: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Vero Beach, Florida, and West Palm Beach, Florida. During the pandemic, the company has changed its approach to comply with local restrictions, a company spokeswoman said: it is making in-kitchen deliveries only in Pittsburgh. In the other cities, it is placing items just inside the door of homes or inside of garages.

With the new HomeValet pilot, groceries will be left in rectangular coolers developed by a start-up. They have three zones that can hold groceries at different temperatures — frozen, refrigerated or kept at room temperature like in a pantry. To make a delivery, a Walmart employee can use a device to lock and unlock the smart cooler.

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