According to Karen Bomber, Honeywell’s head of retail insights, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders across the country caused a spike in online grocery ordering in 2020. Bomber, speaking during the National Retail Federation’s Chapter One conference on Tuesday, said online grocery orders jumped from 4% of sales in 2019 to 30% in 2020.
It is a trend she doesn’t see diminishing moving forward, and while many of those orders are in-store pickups, a good portion remains home delivery, particularly for large retailers such as Walmart (NYSE: WMT) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).
Walmart launched its online grocery delivery service in 2018 and now it is launching a pilot program in Bentonville, Arkansas, to enable consumers looking for contactless delivery to ensure their produce and other refrigerated and freezable items remain fresh – even if the delivery occurs when they are not home.
Walmart will develop the pilot with HomeValet, which will place a temperature-controlled Smart Box outside the home. The Walmart delivery driver will place the grocery delivery inside the Smart Box.
“When we launched our grocery delivery service in 2018, we did it for one reason – our customers wanted it,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product for Walmart U.S., wrote in a blog posting Tuesday announcing the pilot. “Since then, it’s been a lifesaver for busy families. They can simply shop their local store from anywhere and schedule a time to have it delivered right to their front door. It’s incredibly convenient.”
By the second quarter of 2020, Walmart held a 30.4% share of the online food and beverage retail transactions market, ahead of Amazon’s 27.1%, according to the TABS Analytics 8th Annual Food and Beverage Consumables Study.
The implications of the Smart Box, and similar technologies, could be a boon for e-commerce grocery firms such as FreshDirect, PeaPod and Instacart and even food delivery providers like UberEats and DoorDash (NYSE: DASH).
Customers in Bentonville who wish to participate in the trial can sign up starting this spring, Walmart said.
HomeValet’s Smart Box is powered by an Internet of Things platform and includes an app for managing the system. The company said the box can be configured for multiple deliveries at multiple temperature settings and is available 24/7. It includes a special UV-C light technology that helps with disinfecting the box.
The requires a power source, but has a battery backup system that can power it for up to 36 hours. It includes an anchor point for attachment to the ground through a stake, chain or other security method.
The app allows the customer to track deliveries in real time, adjust the temperature inside the box and secure it or provide permissions to other family members, friends or neighbors to access the contents. Delivery, temperature alerts and unauthorized access alerts are included.
“The prospect of this technology is intriguing, both for customers and for Walmart’s last-mile delivery efforts,” Ward wrote. “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.”