Walmart Revs Up a Self-Driving Delivery Pilot with a Twist

It’s at least the fourth test in Arizona from the retailer alone

Walmart continues to test new ways to use technology in retail. Walmart
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Walmart is preparing for yet another self-driving delivery pilot in Arizona. This time, it’s in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale with San Francisco-based self-driving car company Cruise.

Like prior tests, Walmart said customers in the area will be able to place orders for contact-free delivery. The distinction—and it’s an important one considering Walmart wants to reach zero emissions by 2040—is Cruise’s all-electric fleet is powered by 100% renewable energy.

The pilot will begin early next year. According to Google Maps, Walmart operates three Supercenters in the Scottsdale area.

“You’ve seen us test drive with self-driving cars in the past and we’re continuing to learn a lot about how they can shape the future of retail,” wrote Tom Ward, svp of customer product at Walmart U.S., in a blog post. “We’re excited to add Cruise to our lineup of autonomous vehicle pilots as we continue to chart a whole new roadmap for retail.”

Walmart’s experiments with self-driving cars in Arizona date back to at least July 2018 when the retailer partnered with Google’s self-driving car company Waymo in another Phoenix suburb, Chandler. It has also worked with autonomous delivery company Udelv in Surprise, Arizona, which—you guessed it—is also just outside of Phoenix, as well as ride-sharing platform Uber in Phoenix itself and a slew of other delivery partners throughout the country.

Walmart did not respond to a question about why it has conducted so many pilots in the Grand Canyon state. However, a December 2018 Wired story about Waymo’s presence in Chandler noted the area is ideal for testing self-driving vehicles because of its size, the weather and the absence of laws governing the technology, as well as its “wide but complex roads” and sidewalks where residents rarely walk.

Other notable Walmart self-delivery pilots include Ford in Miami and Nuro in Texas.

Pointing to the launch of Walmart’s Express Delivery service in April, Ward said, “This year, we’ve had our foot on the accelerator expanding our pickup and delivery services, so customers can get the items they need quickly and safely.”

Now, he added, Walmart continues to experiment with “new ways we can use technology to serve customers in the future.”

He’s not wrong. Walmart just announced four new test stores where it plans to try out new technology in real-world environments in order to more quickly scale what works in its quest to become an omnichannel retailer with 4,800 U.S. stores that can also serve as miniature fulfillment centers.

Meanwhile, Amazon—which has its own Climate Pledge (and Climate Pledge Arena—has partnered with (and invested $440 million in) the startup Rivian to develop a custom electric delivery vehicle and said just last month it plans to have 10,000 such vehicles on the road by 2022 with 100,000 by 2030.


@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
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