What could be easier – or possibly creepier – than having a Walmart employee deliver groceries straight to your refrigerator while you’re gone? Starting this fall, the retail behemoth will offer that possibility to about a million households in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Vero Beach, Florida through a service called Walmart InHome that executives believe can roll nationally in short order.
Walmart will lean on employees at existing stores that already offer curbside pickup to deliver groceries and other things to unattended homes.
“At the time of delivery, associates will use smart entry technology and a proprietary, wearable camera to access the customer’s home – allowing customers to control access into their home and giving them the ability to watch the delivery remotely,” says Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart U.S. E-commerce in a blog post announcing Walmart InHome.
Employees will “go through an extensive training program which prepares them to enter customers’ homes with the same care and respect with which they would treat a friend’s or family’s home,” Lore says, “not to mention, how to select the freshest grocery items and organize the most efficient refrigerator.”
Even so, the idea of random Walmart employees walking into homes and rooting through fridges while the occupants are gone will freak out some people. But Bart Stein, the executive from Walmart’s Store No. 8–the retailer's ecommerce and digital innovation hub–who’s heading Walmart InHome, says skeptics have turned into believers quickly during limited household tests in New Jersey since 2017.
Unattended fridge restocking is only part of the appeal, as Stein and Lore described it in a media briefing on Thursday. Non-refrigerated items will be left on counters. People can tell the app they’d like to return something from a prior order and have it picked up and automatically credited to their accounts. Most of the boxes and other packaging associated with conventional home delivery of general merchandise items can be eliminated.
While he isn’t providing a timeline yet, Lore says after the retailer gets experience in the original three cities, Walmart InHome can be readily expanded elsewhere to the roughly 70 percent of U.S. households served by more than 3,000 Walmart stores that already offer Online Grocery Pickup. Walmart already offers attended home delivery in about 53 percent of the country, according to Tom Ward, senior VP of digital operations for Walmart U.S.
But Lore says unattended delivery can actually save money compared to attended deliveries, because routes can be planned and served without scheduling around when people are home.
The new service will involve hardware installation and a membership fee that Stein says will be disclosed closer to the fall three-city launch.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon is expected to formally announce Walmart InHome during the company’s shareholder meeting on Friday morning.
“Once we learned how to do pickup well, we knew it would unlock the ability to deliver,” McMillon said in an advance statement. “But 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 kitchens or garages? Imagine keeping homes in stock like we do stores.”
Stein has been developing Walmart InHome in “stealth mode” under the code name Project Franklin since Walmart acquired his startup company – Wim Yogurt – in 2017 and folded it into Store No. 8 in 2017. He began his first test of the unattended delivery service within five months of the acquisition, according to McMillon.
InHome is one of several e-commerce tech applications Walmart was showcasing on Thursday during its Shareholder Week festivities, which brings thousands of employees to the company’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters and surrounding area. Those included an Alphabot system that puts a small automated warehouse operation inside stores to help move curbside pickup orders through stores and to the door, and a Gatick self-driving delivery vehicle for grocery deliveries, including in Arkansas, where driverless vehicles were permitted by law earlier this year.
While Gatick and other self-driving vehicles could ultimately figure into home deliveries, Walmart sees nearer-term potential for using them in “hub and spoke” deliveries from supercenters to remote pickup locations, Ward says, such as one from a New Orleans supercenter to a pickup point in Metairie, La., that’s a 40 minute drive from the store. One advantage: The regular routes are more predictable, which can be a big plus for programming driverless vehicles.