Walmart ups the ante in the grocery delivery contest

Photo (c) AnthonyRosenberg - Getty Images

With others offering deals to hold on to their piece of the pie, the consumer can’t help but win

Walmart has decided to amp up its place in the grocery delivery game. And it’s not just sticking a toe or two in the water, it’s putting in its whole foot.

Walmart is reportedly set to go on two new direct-to-consumer offers: Delivery Unlimited, an unlimited grocery delivery service for $12.95 per month plan, $98/year, or up to $9.95 per order; and “InHome,” a service in which a Walmart delivery person will come to a consumer’s home and put their order of fresh products directly in the refrigerator. InHome will be making its debut this fall in Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Vero Beach, Florida.

In an open letter to employees earlier this month, Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon announced that the cornerstone of these moves is the consumer’s precious time.

“What’s the one thing busy families can’t buy at Walmart? Time. Or is it?,” McMillon asked. “Lately, our associates have been solving problems that enable our customers to kind of ‘buy’ time by shopping with us.”

“We asked ourselves: 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? And a step beyond that, what if they let us keep them replenished, keep them in stock, on the items they use all the time?,” McMillon pondered.

How does the consumer’s valuable time work in Walmart’s scheme? 

  • Step 1: Customers place a grocery order and then select InHome Delivery and a delivery day at checkout. 

  • Step 2: A Walmart associate takes care of the grocery shopping from inside one of its stores.

  • Step 3: At the time of delivery, associates will use smart entry technology and a proprietary, wearable camera to access the customer’s home. 

Get ready for a long battle

Yes, Walmart may be a little late to the grocery game, but it’ll be difficult to count them out with the sheer volume of stores it has -- 4,769 spread across the U.S. Still, the fearless among its competitors are watching Walmart like a hawk, and they’ll likely make a defensive move anytime the company tries to change the game.

All of those moves can be good for the consumer -- not only in the service area but also when it comes to prices. For example, late last year, Instacart dropped the annual fee for Instacart Express from $149 to $99; Target recently reduced its per-order fee for its Shipt service; and Amazon made its Whole Foods delivery free for PrimeNow members in certain markets.

“With similar services and competitive pricing, these retailers will differentiate themselves through execution and customer loyalty,” was Dana Neuts at SubscriptionInsider’s take.

But Neuts thinks that letting someone into a consumer’s house is a gamble.

“As for the InHome grocery delivery service, we are skeptical. While in-home, unattended delivery is being tested by Amazon, it is relatively new, and we aren’t convinced that consumers are ready to let strangers into their homes in the name of convenience. As an AmazonFresh customer, getting the groceries to my doorstep is about as close as I'd like a retailer to come.”

Sensing that some consumers may feel a little uneasy about letting a perfect stranger in their house, Walmart promises that customers will control access into their homes and give them the ability to watch the deliveries remotely.

“These associates, whose jobs are focused on this service, will also 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 -- not to mention how to select the freshest grocery items and organize the most efficient refrigerator,” said Marc Lore, Walmart’s president and CEO of ecommerce.

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