With the launch of its long-awaited subscription delivery service less than a week away, Walmart is taking another swipe at rival Amazon with the start of a drone delivery pilot in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The world’s largest retailer said the pilot will focus on delivering certain grocery and household items from Walmart stores in the area using automated drones from Israeli startup Flytrex.
“The drones, which are controlled over the cloud using a smart and easy control dashboard, will help us gain valuable insight into the customer and associate experience, from picking and packing to takeoff and delivery,” wrote Tom Ward, SVP of Customer Product for Walmart.
“At the end of the day, it’s learnings from pilots such as this that will help shape the potential of drone delivery on a larger scale and, true to the vision of our founder, take Walmart beyond where we’ve been.”
To be clear, this is not Walmart’s first foray into the world of drones — the company has been chasing Amazon in this space since 2015, when it filed an application with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to test the drones for order fulfillment and curbside pickup at its stores.
Walmart has also tested the use drones to move inventory from trailers to its warehouses and to fine tune its distribution system. Walmart’s idea was to use drones to capture product information on warehouse shelves, and then use that information to determine if items were incorrectly stocked or running low.
As for the upcoming launch of Walmart+, which is slated for September 15, the retail giant will offer customers free delivery for over 160,000 items for a fee of $98 per year. The service will also include discounts of gasoline and will potentially add more perks over time. Walmart is also competing against Amazon’s Go technology through “Scan & Go” — a barcode scanner in the Walmart app which will allow for a touchless checkout and payment experience.
When it comes to delivery, however, Amazon has been steadily making progress over Walmart. In addition to assembling its own fleet of cargo planes, Amazon has put together a network of ocean freighters, trucks and local delivery vehicles, all while exploring new shipping options like robots and autonomous drones.
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