Walmart plans to pilot an Internet-of-Things (IoT) “smart box” from startup HomeValet for home delivery of perishable foods.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product at Walmart U.S., said the HomeValet Smart Box test is slated to kick off this spring in Bentonville, Ark. Participating customers will be able to receive deliveries from their local Walmart store in a HomeValet temperature-controlled box situated outside their home. The unit’s IoT platform has three temperature zones for storage of frozen, refrigerated and pantry items. At the point of delivery, the box communicates with the courier’s mobile device to provide access and complete fulfillment of the order.
“This gives customers the ability to receive secure, contactless deliveries with the peace of mind, knowing their grocery items will stay fresh,” Ward said.
Tysons, Va.-based HomeValet said on its website that the cold chain-compliant Smart Box works with a dedicated mobile app that lets customers shop for groceries, track the delivery of their order and adjust temperature settings, which change automatically before the delivery is made. Users also can control permissions for access, such as family members and neighbors; secure their box remotely; and receive notifications for deliveries and unauthorized access, as well as temperature alerts.
“The prospect of this technology is intriguing, both for customers and for Walmart’s last-mile delivery efforts,” Ward wrote in the blog. “For customers, they don’t need to plan their day around when their grocery delivery will be made. For Walmart, it presents an opportunity to deliver items 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While we don’t have plans to do 24/7 delivery today, it certainly has a nice ring to it.”
The HomeValet Smart Box is powered by a standard 110-volt outlet and includes a backup battery that allows it to function without cooling capabilities for up to 36 hours, according to the company. The unit can placed anywhere that provides delivery access and power, such as next to their garage or in a side yard. HomeValet noted that the size and weight of the Smart Box make it difficult to remove, but the unit comes with an anchor point for securing it to the ground with a stake or chain. A built-in UV-C LED light helps to disinfect the box between deliveries.
Besides offering a contactless, more convenient experience for customers, the Smart Box enables couriers to deliver on the first attempt every time, eliminate in-person signatures and implement more flexible scheduling, HomeValet said. Both retailers and couriers also can benefit from reduced liability, as all deliveries go straight into the box at the customer’s home, and proof of delivery “virtually eliminates” damage and theft, the company reported.
HomeValet’s website said the company is now accepting pre-orders for the Smart Box, which comes in a variety of styles. A spokesperson for Walmart said there's no cost to customers for the pilot, and the retailer will conduct outreach to its current delivery users in Bentonville to find participants for the test.
According to Ward, HomeValet is “one of many solutions we’re testing” at Walmart. “As our founder Sam Walton once said, ‘To succeed, stay out in front of change.’ It’s why we’re continuously testing new technology, like drones and autonomous vehicles, to find new ways to serve customers,” Ward said in his blog post. “Which made us think, what if we could conveniently deliver fresh groceries to a customer’s front door any time of the day, whether they’re home or not? That’s what we’ll be exploring in our new pilot with HomeValet.”
In October 2019, Walmart launched its InHome Delivery service, in which associates can deliver groceries directly to a customer’s refrigerator inside their home or garage. InHome users must pay for the smart-lock device enabling access to their home, and installation is free.
The Bentonville-based retail giant also has engaged in a number of tests of autonomous vehicles for delivery of online orders of groceries and other items. This year, Walmart plans to go fully driverless in an expansion of a July 2019 pilot of Gatik autonomous vehicles handling middle-mile delivery between a “dark” Supercenter in Rogers, Ark., and a Neighborhood Market in Bentonville.
In November, Walmart said it plans to pilot all-electric delivery vehicles with self-driving car company Cruise in Scottsdale, Ariz. And in December 2019, the retailer unveiled a pilot of Nuro unmanned vehicles for grocery delivery in Houston. That followed a February 2019 announcement by FedEx of a partnership with Walmart, Target and Walgreens to test last-mile delivery of small-shipment online orders via the FedEx SameDay Bot, a wheeled, shoulder-high delivery robot.
Other Walmart partners in pilots of self-driving vehicles for online grocery delivery have included Udelv (in Surprise, Ariz.), Ford (in Miami-Dade County, Fla.) and Waymo . In the test with Waymo (formerly Google’s self-driving car project), conducted in Chandler, Ariz., autonomous vehicles pick up customers at their homes and take them to the store to collect their orders.