Walmart has made significant investments in its online grocery delivery capabilities over the past year, even quietly experimenting with driverless delivery. The retail giant will pilot a program to use Udelv autonomous-driving vans to deliver fresh groceries in Surprise, Ariz. Tom Ward, Senior VP of Digital Operations at Walmart U.S. revealed in a blog post that the trial is set to begin February.
Udelv will use a cargo van custom-made to deliver Walmart customers fresh groceries that are hand-picked by personal shoppers. The vans are outfitted with a cargo system designed to carry up to 32 customer orders per delivery cycle. Walmart already had announced other pilot programs with self-driving car companies, including Ford and Alphabet’s Waymo.
The autonomous delivery vans will operate with safety drivers until both companies, as well as regulators, deem them approved for a safe removal of the safety driver, according to Udelv.
Walmart has strengthened its grocery delivery largely through partnerships. In 2018, the retailer partnered with third-party last mile delivery providers DoorDash and Postmates, in addition to expanding its existing partnership with Deliv. Walmart launched another last mile grocery delivery pilot, Spark Delivery, in Nashville and New Orleans in October. The service uses independent drivers who partner with Delivery Drivers, Inc. (DDI), a last mile delivery management contractor, to complete deliveries.
The company plans to finish its fiscal year (ending Jan. 31, 2019) with an online grocery delivery option in roughly 100 metropolitan areas, reaching more than 40% of U.S. households. For 2019, it plans to add online grocery capabilities to another 800 stores. Grocery delivery does not require a subscription and Walmart offers same-day shipping with a flat $9.95 fee and a $30 minimum order.
The investments in online grocery have extended to in-store pickup as well. Walmart launched an ad campaign that first aired during the Golden Globes and showed famous cars in pop culture — like the Batmobile, the Ghostbusters hearse and the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine — pulling up to Walmart stores and using the grocery pickup service.
Walmart isn’t the only major supermarket testing autonomous grocery delivery. Kroger is testing driverless delivery in Scottsdale, Ariz. through a partnership with Nuro, an unmanned road vehicle startup.
Udelv has been using its fleet of orange vans to test grocery delivery with a variety of food markets. In October, Udelv signed a deal to supply various Oklahoma City grocery chains with self-driving vehicles, and early last year the startup began delivering groceries from the high-end Draeger’s Market chain in San Mateo, Calif. Udelv said it has completed 1,200 deliveries, and says it will deliver up to 100 autonomous vans to customers in 2019.