The Supply Side: Walmart’s expanded in-home delivery is timely

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 509 views 

Walmart recently announced the expansion of its in-home delivery service — Walmart InHome — in Northwest Arkansas, which went live April 7. The retailer added the local market to Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas), Pittsburgh, and Vero Beach, Fla.

Walmart said the timing was right for expanding the service and added six stores in Northwest Arkansas that went live with the service in early April. The retailer said the six stores serve roughly 332,000 people in Benton and Washington counties.

Walmart selected store 5260 in Rogers; 5261 in Pineville, Mo.; 100 in Bentonville; 4108 in Springdale; and 359 and 144 in Fayetteville, which covers most of the two-county area as the eligible area is 9 miles around each of those stores. Walmart declined to say how many employees have been added in the market. Still, the retailer did say the delivery position is sought out by seasoned veterans like Monica Fetters of Kansas City, Mo., who has 25 years of experience at Walmart.

Fetters previously worked in customer service at her store’s front-end and said she was one of the first to sign up for the InHome delivery role because she wanted to get out of the store. She has been an InHome delivery employee since 2019 when Walmart launched the pilot. Fetters said the job has been rewarding because she has been able to have contact with customers throughout the pandemic.

The training for the delivery workers is stringent, according to Whitney Pegden, vice president of Walmart InHome. Pegden is based in New York but recently spoke with the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal at the mobile training site for InHome delivery employees in Rogers. She said Walmart screens candidates with background checks and driver safety records. She said they also go through a series of interviews because they are Walmart’s face outside the store. Approved candidates go through a two-week training program that involves everything from how to deal with pets and how to maintain their safety with social distancing, to sanitization amid the ongoing pandemic.

InHome delivery personnel are also trained on how to wear the camera that connects with smartphones so the homeowner can see them as they enter the home and how to use the smart lock systems required for the service. Fetters said drivers wear uniforms and deliver in only branded Walmart InHome vehicles, so there is no mistaking who they are.

Pegden said the service offers consumers three options for delivery: They can purchase a smart lock for their front door, allow access via a garage keypad, or have the order placed at the front door. She said since the program’s inception, 60% had chosen smart locks, and 40% prefer garage entry.

The mobile training site for Walmart InHome delivery employees in Rogers.

The smart lock technology costs $49.95, and there is no installation fee. The service is $19.95 per month, and there is a minimum order of $35. Pegden said customers who are already Walmart+ members and paying $12.95 per month can upgrade and pay the $19.95 subscription cost.

Pegden said the service subscription also includes free returns for items ordered online. She said members schedule a pickup and the driver will pack and return to the store or supplier.

The service is available seven days a week with deliveries between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pegden said customers can meet the new drivers in Northwest Arkansas on the retailer’s website.

“As more consumers return to their workplaces this summer, we felt like it was time to expand the service,” Pegden said. “We know how many shoppers have depended on Walmart grocery pickup during the pandemic, and this is the next step to helping them keep their pantries and refrigerators stocked.”

She said customers in the program often get to know their delivery person, so there is a personal touch. Fetters noted she goes to the kitchen when entering the home and places cold and frozen items in the refrigerator and freezer. Shelf-stable products are placed on the counter or wherever the customer specifies.

Walmart has not yet provided data on the number of subscribers for the InHome service, but Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has said the service is used repeatedly by those who try it. He said it might not be for everyone, but it is another way Walmart can better serve its diverse customer base.

Monica Fetters, InHome delivery employee from Kansas City, Mo., demonstrates a delivery.

“Walmart seems to be promoting In-Home [delivery] more heavily now, mainly to shoppers who already use Walmart home delivery,” said Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail. “Walmart is getting behind the service and confident in its early-stage execution. Shoppers who already trust Walmart for delivery are the most logical early-stage targets for the service.

“Walmart also appears to be attempting to mitigate any tipping backlash by clearly stating that the subscription fee includes ‘tip-free deliveries.’”

Spieckerman said the question isn’t whether something could go wrong, it’s whether Walmart can afford to sit on the sidelines as other retailers break the in-home barrier. When Walmart introduced the program, there were skeptics given the privacy concerns, and a poll conducted by RetailWire found that 73% of respondents thought the program would be a failure for Walmart. But that was before the pandemic, and more consumers have tried home delivery in 2020.

Walmart said in 2019, the only way to know how well consumers would receive the service is to try it. Steve Breen, senior vice president at Walmart, said the company believed it would appeal to Millennials (ages 25-40) who were the first to use Uber and Airbnb, which have gone mainstream. Walmart said customers of all ages are now using the service.

“That is an interesting announcement, given that I can recall a time when neither Walmart nor Sam’s Club wanted any part of offering a delivery service,” said Scott Benedict, executive director of retail studies at Texas A&M University. “That said, I applaud their willingness to constantly relook at how they are serving their customers and members and seek ways to build and refine their capabilities. The times demand a willingness to experiment with new ways of serving customers.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.

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