Walmart shoppers in the retailer’s home state of Arkansas could soon see their packages dropped off by self-driving trucks instead of human couriers.
This week, the chain announced plans to use fully autonomous box trucks to make deliveries in Arkansas starting in early 2021. It shared that it was prepared to remove safety drivers from vehicles following a year and a half of testing with Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup Gatik.
“With 90% of Americans living within 10 miles of a Walmart, a closer store isn’t always the answer. Perhaps it’s just a pickup location, with an autonomous vehicle making deliveries on a constant loop,” said Tom Ward, SVP of customer product at Walmart U.S. “This achievement marks a new milestone that signifies the first ever driverless operation carried out on the supply chain middle mile for both Gatik and Walmart.”
Last year, Walmart announced that it had begun an autonomous vehicle pilot to move orders on a two-mile route between fulfillment centers and a neighborhood market in Bentonville, Ark., where its headquarters are located. Ward said that the company has driven more than 70,000 operational miles in autonomous mode with a safety driver.
What’s more, Walmart intends to use the self-driving trucks to deliver items from Supercenters to certain designated locations where customers can pick up their orders. This operation is also expected to begin early next year on a 20-mile route between New Orleans and Metairie, La. (The test will initially operate with a safety driver.)
“Our trials with Gatik are just two of many use cases we’re testing with autonomous vehicles,” added Ward, “and we’re excited to continue learning how we might incorporate them in a delivery ecosystem.”
The program’s expansion comes at a time when more consumers are demanding convenience and contactless options amid the COVID-19 health crisis. As many businesses flounder, big-box giants like Walmart have been able to leverage their scale, resources and omnichannel prowess, as well as their classification as essential retailers.
In addition, the company recently invested in a redesign of its stores, with hopes to better integrate its brick-and-mortar, online and mobile experiences for shoppers. Late in September, it announced plans to roll out the new look to 200 Supercenters, plus some Health Centers and Neighborhood Markets. It expects that a total of 1,000 outposts — out of its 4,500 locations in the United States — will be redone by the end of the next fiscal year.