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Walmart pilots crowdsourced grocery delivery platform

Spark Delivery store-to-door service uses independent drivers

Walmart has begun testing a crowdsourcing-based service that enlists drivers using their own vehicles to provide last-mile delivery of groceries ordered online.

Dubbed Spark Delivery, the service leverages delivery logistics platform Bringg to engage with independent drivers to pick up grocery orders at Walmart stores and deliver them directly to customers. The drivers are recruited and managed by Delivery Drivers Inc. (DDI), a national firm specializing in last-mile contractor management.

Walmart said Wednesday that Spark Delivery is being piloted in New Orleans and Nashville, Tenn., and is slated to be rolled out to several more metropolitan areas this year.

“We’re saving customers time by leveraging new technology and connecting all the parts of our business into a single, seamless shopping experience: great stores, easy pickup, fast delivery, and apps and websites that are simple to use,” Walmart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran said in a statement. “We’re serving our customers in ways that no one else can. Using our size and scale, we’re bringing the best of Walmart to customers across the country. Spark Delivery is one way we’re exploring how to get quality groceries from our door to our customers’ doors.”

For Spark Delivery, drivers access Walmart’s in-house platform — components of which are powered by Bringg — to sign up for blocks of delivery time that work with their schedule, see grocery order details and get navigational assistance, among other information. On the customer end, online grocery orders are placed as usual at Walmart.com/grocery or via the Walmart Grocery App.

The drivers are paid per delivery by Irvine, Calif.-based DDI, which handles recruiting, screening and background checks, accounting and other driver services. The company also offers assistance in understanding order flow, group discounts and a contractor entrepreneurial program.

“It is important to us at DDI that we help each independent driver run their transportation business correctly,” according to DDI CEO Aaron Hageman. “We are excited to partner with Walmart to allow them to focus on providing great products while we can build and support a professional driver network to focus on the delivery side of the business.”

Walmart is developing an array of options in a push to expand geographic coverage of online grocery delivery. In March, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer said it aims to bring grocery delivery to 40% of U.S. households — reaching 100 metro areas — by the end of 2018 via its own services and through the use of third-party providers.

Currently, the Walmart Grocery Delivery service is available in almost 50 markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami and Seattle. Also offered is Walmart Online Grocery Pickup, a click-and-collect service expected to reach 2,100 stores by the year’s end, compared with 1,800 stores today. Walmart, too, has ramped up its team of personal shoppers to over 25,000 from 18,000 earlier this year.

“Our customers love [Walmart] Grocery Pickup and Delivery. It offers convenience paired with the everyday low prices customers expect from us,” stated Tom Ward, vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S. “We’re always looking for the best ways to serve them, so we’re exploring a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to the customer’s front door – some in-house, some third-party.”

Walmart currently works with outside service providers like Postmates, Doordash and Deliv for grocery delivery. Earlier this year, the company ended delivery partnerships with Uber and Lyft and abandoned a test in which Walmart employees delivered groceries to customers after their regular shifts.

This summer, the retail giant also unveiled technology-driven pilots to spur online grocery delivery.

In late July, the company said it has teamed up with Waymo — formerly Google’s self-driving car project — to test an online grocery service in which driverless vehicles pick up customers at their homes and take them to the store to collect their orders. The service is being piloted in Chandler, Ariz.

And about a week later, Walmart announced a partnership with automation specialist Alert Innovation in a test of its Alphabot robot to help fill online grocery orders faster. The automated storage and retrieval system, developed for Walmart, is being installed at the retailer’s supercenter in Salem, N.H.

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