Walmart’s investments in emerging technologies are evolving into more “convenience” services for its customers. Walmart U.S. eCommerce CEO Marc Lore told the media the company is expanding its own in-home delivery program — dubbed Walmart in-Home — that takes grocery delivery one step further putting the items inside the customer’s home.
Last year, Walmart announced a trial with August Home to test this white-glove service for customers who had the smart lock home security program offered by August Home. This was a limited test in Silicon Valley.
Over the past several months, Walmart Store No. 8 has been innovating a similar solution of its own that leverages the company’s online grocery pickup infrastructure and its own employee base to make these deliveries.
The test markets being rolled out this fall include Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Vero Beach, Fla.. Walmart did not disclose the cost to the customer for this service, but it did say there will be some type of smart lock device required for the service to be carried out.
“We will make the details available this fall when it is rolled out,” said Bart Stein, whose team innovated this service from the ground up in just five months.
Stein conducted tests in New Jersey over six months and the response from users was positive enough to expand the program this fall to more than 1 million consumers in the three chosen markets. Walmart In-Home combines technology, a fresh supply chain and employees to do something special for shoppers.
Stein explained the process starts with placing an online grocery order and choosing the home delivery option (in-home). He said Walmart will use personal shoppers to pick the order and W2 employees who have been with the company for more than one year to make the deliveries in a fleet of Walmart-owned vehicles.
The employee will wear a camera that has streaming capabilities so the customer can watch as they enter the home through the front door or garage door. Cold items will be placed in the fridge, frozen items will be put away in the freezer and other groceries will be left out on the counter. (Watch a short video at the end of this post displaying how the process works.)
The customer is also given a short bio of the delivery person who will leave a note for the customer. The door is locked behind them, all visible to the customer through streaming.
Lore said the company is continually looking at innovations that can be bolted onto platforms like online grocery. He said in-home returns will be turned on shortly after the program launches. Customers can simply place the return item in their garage and Walmart will pick it up from there.
When asked about the cost for implementation, Lore said that it’s actually more efficient to batch deliver orders to empty houses than try and hit a particular time window for normal delivery. He said the expected 3,000 pick-up locations by the end of this year will give Walmart the ability to run with this quickly if the response goes as expected in the three trial markets.
The issue of trust was raised by the media and Stein said Walmart has navigated that carefully by trying to introduce the shopper to the delivery person by giving them bio information. He said after the first few deliveries many customers didn’t even watch the entrance and delivery in real time, as the event is captured and saved in high resolution for later viewing.
Lore said a few years ago the notion of having a stranger sleep in your bed was unheard of, but AirBnB has totally changed that. He expects there are plenty of customers who will be willing to try the service if it saves them enough time.
He told Talk Business & Politics the integration of the Walmart.com app and the online grocery pick-up app, which are now separate, continues. He said the complete integration should be completed in the next 12 months. This will give consumers the ability to use the one app and perhaps over time allow them to add more general merchandise to their pick-up or home delivery orders. For now, the amount of general merchandise available to customers using online grocery pick-up is limited to seasonal items.
Consumers could benefit from having their prescriptions picked up or delivered with their groceries. Walmart said Thursday this service is not available at the time and gave an indication that it will be soon.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said once the company learned how to do pickup well, he knew there would be the ability to unlock delivery.
“What if we not only cover the last mile to customers’ homes but even the last few steps? What if we put their groceries away inside their kitchen or garages and imagine keeping homes in-stock like we do stores,” McMillon said.
While the launch is just in three cities, McMillion said, “we will learn and scale from there.”
Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail, told Talk Business & Politics, this could be a game-changer regardless of how quickly it gains traction (or not) as the boundaries are breaking.
“I can hear the backlash already from the peanut gallery (but not from shoppers). Yes, many things could technically go wrong with this service but breaking the in-home convenience barrier is an inevitability. Walmart might as well get the ball rolling. The camera technology and other safeguards that Walmart is putting in place will help speed adoption. The Walmart.com product return service sweetens the pot. Once Walmart has ‘gained entry, and gained customers’ trust, it can go on to pursue any number of invasive, but helpful, services,” Spieckerman added.