Walmart’s interest in drone delivery will change the food conversation

November 20, 2015

Drone DeliveryCustomers want to shop whenever, wherever, and however. This demand applies to all facets of commerce, including grocery. New digital capabilities are creating fresh potential for the grocery industry, with the latest buzz surrounding drone delivery.

Most recently Walmart joined the conversation. While the world’s largest retailer wasn’t the first to adopt drone delivery, and it’s still considerably behind the likes of Amazon when it comes to investment in new technology, Walmart has the potential to be an innovative and ambitious player in the online space.

I believe Walmart’s involvement in drone technology is a positive development—a company of that size has a duty to use its vast intellect and resources to test different use cases. Drones can enable grocers to survey stores, inspect warehouses, perform security checks, and even determine when the bananas or coffee beans should be harvested. Through Walmart Labs, a separate innovation and research laboratory, researchers have the ability to utilize Walmart’s breadth of property, food suppliers, and security concerns to make the use case for drones.

Hiring drones to take selfies or scout out local hotspots seems to miss the benefit that the technology can deliver. I think the possibilities for agriculture, property management, healthcare, and personal safety are worthy of investment dollars and risk. Even if there is never a single order placed through drone delivery, Walmart’s research has the potential to justify drone developments. But there is still a long way to go.

Drone regulation, or lack thereof, is and will continue to be an issue for drone delivery. However unlikely it is that my bacon and eggs will be delivered from 400 feet above my front lawn on a Saturday morning, it is possible that emergency deliveries of food, aid, or equipment may be dispatched from Walmart stores in the future. I think we still have a distance to travel when it comes to drones, but I believe the disruptive nature of the concept is helpful to the online food conversation. In the meantime, I suspect crowdsourcing deliveries (i.e., hiring regular folks to pick up and drop off packages to customers) will have a greater impact on the future of online food.

Customer demands and expectations change quickly, and buying decisions are increasingly driven by engagement in non-traditional channels. Retailers need to orientate themselves to this new reality sooner rather than later.

Barry Clogan

Barry Clogan
SVP of business consulting services

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