Walmart (WMT) is going on “offense” in the delivery wars with its newest offering — a store associate who puts your groceries away neatly in your refrigerator, even when you’re not home.
On Friday ahead of Walmart’s shareholders’ meeting, the retailer debuted its InHome Delivery service, in which a Walmart associate acts as a personal shopper by delivering grocery orders to private homes.
“Once we learned how to do pickup well, we knew it would unlock the ability to deliver,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in his prepared remarks at the shareholders’ meeting.
“But what if we not only cover the last mile to customers’ homes but even the last few steps? What if we put their groceries away inside their kitchens or garages?” he asked. “Imagine keeping homes in stock like we do stores.”
InHome Delivery starts this fall in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Vero Beach, covering a population of nearly 1 million customers.
“We’ll learn, and scale from there,” McMillon added.
Here’s how InHome works: A Walmart shopper places their grocery order on the website or app and upon checking out they select InHome Delivery and the day they want the items delivered.
Next, Walmart uses its existing online grocery personal shoppers to pick and prepare the order, and the customer receives a status update along the way. A “vetted” associate who has been with the company for at least a year picks up the order and delivers it to the customer’s home. The associate uses smart access technology to enter the garage or kitchen.
That person will have a wearable camera on their chest that acts as a “physical check” or two-step verification, and won’t be able to access the home if the camera is not streaming or recording.
The customer can watch remotely as the order is placed in the refrigerator, and they also get access to a replay. The associate will then lock the door or close the garage and notify the customer.
Walmart home delivery building on grocery offerings
The "mastermind" behind InHome is Bart Stein who joined Walmart through an acquisition in 2018. He quickly began working on InHome Delivery, a mission dubbed internally as "Project Franklin."
“[It] worked really well, so well in fact, that we decided we were going to launch it,” Marc Lore, CEO of eCommerce U.S, said.
According to Lore, it fits as part of the broader e-commerce strategy. A key pillar of that strategy is leveraging “unique assets to play offense,” and in the case of Walmart, that means the 4,700 stores.
“We think this is a great extension of what we are already doing for same-day grocery pickup and same-day grocery delivery,” Lore said.
“We think this is an area where we can play offense and something only we can do. We are using our Walmart associates to do it,” he added.
Stein, the GM of InHome, noted that the associates go through extensive training for the service.
“They’re specifically trained for this InHome program, so they know how to deal with things big and small, they even how to organize a messy fridge,” he said.
‘Exciting... today and tomorrow’
Walmart, which sees more than half of its revenues from grocery, has been aggressive in that business.
Meanwhile, the retailer has embraced new technologies like robots to complete more mundane tasks within its fleet of U.S. stores. It frees up its associates to do more specialized work— like fulfilling online grocery orders in newly created roles called “personal shoppers.”
Presently, 2,450 Walmart stores in the U.S. feature grocery pickup and 1,000 stores offer grocery delivery. By year-end, Walmart expects to have grocery pickup at 3,100 stores and same-day grocery delivery from 1,600, covering approximately 80% and 50% of the U.S. population, respectively.
When InHome Delivery begins it will open up more opportunities when it comes to delivery such as returns.
“Shortly after we roll the service out, we’re actually going to let InHome customers return items they’ve purchased from Walmart.com by simply leaving it in their kitchen or in their garage and that associate will pick it up for them on their behalf and bring it back to the store,” Stein said.
“This service isn’t just exciting today. It’s going to be exciting tomorrow.”
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.