- Walmart said Wednesday it is teaming up with Ford and Argo AI to deliver goods to customers' homes via self-driving vehicles. It is the latest move by the retail giant to leverage autonomous technology for transportation in its supply chain.
- The delivery program will span "defined service areas" of three cities — Miami, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas — and expand over time, the release said. Initial testing will begin later this year, but the announcement did not provide a specific date.
- Through the service, a Walmart customer will place an order online, and Argo AI will route the order and schedule its delivery time. A Ford vehicle using Argo AI's self-driving system will then deliver the order. A video accompanying the release shows a Walmart store employee loading the vehicle with goods and the end customer unloading it.
Walmart's latest AV delivery collaboration is unique in that it's the company's first to span multiple cities. The release said as more customers become accustomed to same-day and next-day delivery, the service will help show "how autonomous technology can enhance customer experiences, while also optimizing logistics and operations."
Automating transportation is one way Walmart can move products to whatever end point the customer desires while keeping labor costs low. The COVID-19 pandemic brought omnichannel fulfillment to the forefront as more customers explored options beyond in-store shopping.
"Looking at the business, the first thing that I would just remind everyone that we've been talking about for a while is that we're positioning this business to serve the customer however the customer wishes to be served," Walmart U.S. President and CEO John Furner said on the company's Q2 earnings call. "And that would include pick-up, delivery to home, and shopping in-store."
Pairing Walmart's retail and e-commerce strength with Argo and Ford's self-driving capabilities in these markets is a big step toward scaling a delivery service "that will ultimately power first-to-scale business efficiencies and enable a great consumer experience," said Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles and Mobility Businesses, in a statement.
The collaboration with Ford and Argo AI is just one way Walmart is testing what the future of delivery will look like. Walmart announced in April it invested in AV company Cruise to build a fast and low-cost ecosystem for last-mile deliveries. Walmart has also worked with Gatik for autonomous, middle-mile deliveries, including in Louisiana to bring orders to a customer pickup point.
"Over the years we've been doing a lot to learn more about the role autonomous vehicles can play in retail, and we've seen enough to know it's no longer a question of if they'll be scaled, but when," Furner said in a statement when the Cruise investment was announced.