Six months after launching its drone delivery service, Walmart is significantly expanding the program — suggesting that drone delivery, after many false starts, may finally be on the way up.
The challenge: In 2012, online shopping accounted for just 8% of retail sales, but by 2021, it was up to 20%. Part of the surge was due to the pandemic, but the trend of people doing more of their shopping online is expected to continue no matter what happens with COVID-19.
The most complicated part of delivering these online orders is the “last mile” that ends with the package at the customer’s home. Typically, this is undertaken by truck drivers, and if a customer lives in a rural or remote area, they may wait longer and pay more for a delivery.
The Walmart drone delivery service will expand to locations in six states before the end of 2022.
Walmart drone delivery: Because delivery drones aren’t beholden to roads, they have the potential to get online orders to rural customers faster than truck drivers. They won’t get stuck in traffic when delivering orders in more populated areas, either.
To test the potential of drone deliveries, Walmart partnered with drone company Zipline to launch drone service in one town in Benton County, Arkansas — near Walmart’s corporate headquarters — in November 2021. For a $10 fee, select customers could have 4 pound’s worth of eligible items delivered within 30 minutes.
Within a week, it announced a partnership with drone company DroneUp that added delivery hubs to three more locations in the area. According to DroneUp CEO Tom Walker, the response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’re seeing a level of acceptance in these communities that we had not imagined, and we’ve shown that we can do this safely, transparently,” he told DroneLife.
What’s new? Walmart is now expanding its partnership with DroneUp to 34 sites in six states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Before the end of 2022, each state will have hubs in at least three cities, bringing the service to as many as 4 million households.
The Walmart drone delivery service will be available seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., and tens of thousands of items will be eligible. Packages can now weigh up to 10 pounds, and the delivery fee has been cut to just $3.99, while deliveries may now take up to 2 hours.
The big picture: Amazon, FedEx, and other major delivery companies have been exploring drone deliveries since as early as 2013, but we’ve yet to see them put the tech to the test with a major deployment.
With the addition of the new hubs, the Walmart drone delivery program will be the largest in the US, according to DroneLife, which means it could provide valuable data on the safety, acceptance, and economic viability of delivery drones that could lead to the launch of other programs.
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