Walmart announced today that it is hooking up with self-driving electric car company Cruise to experiment with autonomous grocery delivery. The two will pilot a program in Scottsdale, Arizona starting early next year.
The corporate blog post announcing the partnership was light on details, so we don’t know how many stores in the Scottsdale area will be participating, where the service areas will be or how big the fleet of self-driving vehicles will be.
This isn’t Walmart’s first ride with self-driving delivery vehicles. In the summer of 2018, Walmart partnered with Waymo in a small pilot to autonomously chauffeur people from their homes to Walmarts to pick up their orders. The goal of that pilot was to learn more about curbside pick up. In 2019, Walmart worked with autonomous van company Gatik for deliveries along the “middle mile” between its stores. And at the end of 2019, Walmart announced it was using Nuro’s self-driving pod vehicles for grocery delivery in Houston, Texas.
This time around, Walmart’s pitch is less about self-driving and more about the environment, as Cruise’s vehicles are all 100 percent electric. Should this pilot prove successful, it will align with Walmart’s stated goal of achieving zero emissions across all its operations by 2040, including the electrification of all of its vehicles.
Walmart and other retailers will need to offer all the delivery options they can in the coming years. Online grocery is projected to hit 21.5 percent of total grocery sales by 2025, which means grocers will need to boost their capacity for increased delivery. Walmart is already among those leading that charge with two-hour delivery as well as it’s Walmart+ delivery service, which gives members free unlimited delivery. The company has even enlisted Instacart for help with same day grocery delivery.
Full-sized self-driving vehicles still have a lot of regulatory hurdles to overcome, but kudos to Walmart for helping push the technology forward (while getting food to our doors).