Walmart announced today that it will start testing grocery delivery to smart lockers that sit outside a person’s home. The pilot program will begin this Spring in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The smart lockers are built by Home Valet and feature three temperature zones (frozen, refrigerated and fresh). When a grocery delivery order is placed with Walmart, the delivery driver unlocks the box with a smart device, and places the groceries inside. Customers unlock the box when they return home and retrieve their items.
This smart locker approach could actually benefit Walmart shoppers in a few ways. First, customers get more flexibility because they don’t need to be/stay at home when their delivery is scheduled. Second, it secures groceries away from the elements and potential porch thieves. And finally, this delivery method is contactless, which will continue to be important even after the pandemic recedes. (Bonus benefit: Dropping off groceries to a box outside your house is a lot less creepy than Walmart’s idea of having a delivery driver enter your house when you aren’t there.)
But the smart locker is just the latest aggressive move by Walmart to make its delivery more convenient as it dukes it out with other retailers like Amazon and Kroger for your grocery dollar. In addition to launching its Walmart+ delivery service last year, Walmart is also testing grocery delivery via drones and autonomous vehicles.
Walmart can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Online grocery shopping is projected to hit $250 billion by 2025, accounting for 21.5 percent of all grocery sales. As such, everyone in the space is testing new programs to get you your groceries faster. Kroger is set to open the first of its robot-powered automated fulfillment centers this year. Albertsons recently debuted an automated curbside pickup kiosk. And Amazon will drop off groceries inside your garage when you’re out.
Walmart’s smart locker reminded me of a patent that Amazon was issued a couple years back for a robot that would live at your house, and then autonomously venture out to retrieve packages from a nearby pickup hub.
This might be a little overkill, but it’s not hard to imagine a time when Walmart’s smart locker sprouts wheels and goes to pick up your groceries. Walmart is already automating the middle-mile for delivery, so it’s not a big mental leap for your grocery being autonomously driven from a fulfillment center to a neighborhood hub. Once your order arrives at that hub, your smart locker drives over to get your groceries and drives them back to your doorstep to await being put in your kitchen.
That particular vision is still a ways away, but given how much retailers are investing in delivery infrastructure, it’s not that far off in the future.