Walmart Using Driverless Trucks to Improve Online Grocery Business
Walmart said yesterday that it has started using fully driverless trucks in its online grocery business in an effort to increase capacity and reduce inefficiencies. Walmart has partnered with Gatik, a middle mile logistics provider that delivers goods safely and efficiently using its fleet of light and medium duty trucks that operate daily without a driver.
"We’re thrilled to be working with Gatik to achieve this industry-first, driverless milestone,” Walmart Senior Vice President Tom Ward said in a news release about the project. “Through our work with Gatik, we’ve identified that autonomous box trucks offer an efficient, safe and sustainable solution for transporting goods on repeatable routes between our stores.” In addition, Walmart said the use of automated vehicles will also allow store associates more freedom to perform “higher level” tasks, including picking and packing online orders and customer assistance.
The program began in December 2020 after getting approval from the Arkansas State Highway Commission, and this new phase began in August. Currently, the trucks are operating daily without a safety driver behind the wheel on its delivery route in Bentonville, AK. It's moving customer orders between a Walmart dark store and a Neighborhood Market in its fleet of multi-temperature autonomous box trucks. The trucks complete repeated delivery runs multiple times per day, seven days per week on public roads and unlock the full advantages of autonomous delivery for Walmart’s customers, including increased speed and responsiveness when fulfilling e-commerce orders, increased asset utilization, and enhanced safety for all road users. Walmart and Gatik are also currently running similar tests in the New Orleans area using an electric box truck with a safety driver to move online grocery orders from a Walmart Supercenter to a customer pickup location.
Total Retail's Take: Walmart, the nation’s biggest seller of grocery items, is testing the Gatik autonomous vehicles as part of its transition to a “hub and spoke” model for grocery delivery where dark stores are closer to the consumer and used to serve several retail stores. There may be more autonomous vehicles on the road as well, as more and more retailers are turning to hub-and-spoke distribution models to meet consumer needs. Kroger, for example, has tested autonomous delivery with startup Nuro since 2018, and said it’s now completed thousands of “last mile” deliveries in the Houston area. Albertsons, which operates supermarkets including Safeway and Kings, is testing last-mile delivery with startup Tortoise in Northern California. The remote-controlled Tortoise carts are filled with groceries by employees at the store. The carts are then operated remotely by Tortoise “drivers” that use an Xbox controller to navigate to the customer’s home.
Melissa Campanelli is Editor-in-Chief of Total Retail. She is an industry veteran, having covered all aspects of retail, tech, digital, e-commerce, and marketing over the past 20 years. Melissa is also the co-founder of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle.