Drone delivery is all the rage for both e-commerce and logistics businesses. It is currently being tested by a variety of major players like Google, UPS, and Amazon. Although it doesn’t always get included in the conversation, Walmart is also testing drone deliveries.
The retail giant just announced a partnership with Zipline, a drone delivery startup, to expand its service. Walmart plans to test deliveries of health and wellness supplies in the area around its Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters. The news comes just a few days after it announced a partnership with Flytrex to fly deliveries in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The name Zipline might sound familiar to readers of The Burn-In. We previously covered the startup when it was helping to deliver life-saving medications and blood products to hospitals in Ghana.
It now brings that experience stateside and will work with Walmart to deliver a variety of goods to its customers. The project is scheduled to start early next year. Eventually, it may expand past medical supplies and be used to deliver general merchandise. If it is successful, Walmart could also make the service available in other areas, according to senior vice president of customer product Tom Ward.
Like other drone delivery projects being tested right now, Walmart’s could be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic. At-risk consumers may not feel safe leaving their homes—even to get essential medical supplies. Having them delivered is a much safer alternative. Drone deliveries could ensure that those supplies arrive much faster than they would with traditional methods. Ward notes that shipments from its Arkansas headquarters can arrive in less than an hour to consumers within a 50-mile radius.
The few drone delivery services already operating in the U.S. have reportedly seen a surge in demand due to the pandemic. It’s likely that Walmart’s will be able to gain traction immediately out of the gate.
Competition and Regulation
Drone delivery is a fledgling sector. With that in mind, there is still a lot of work to be done by all of the companies involved. Much of that revolves around regulation from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Late last month, Amazon passed a major milestone as its Prime Air drone delivery service was approved by the agency to begin training tests. UPS and Google’s Wing have also been approved for similar operations.
At least for now, it appears that Walmart is content to work with drone delivery partners instead of establishing its own fleet. That may change in the future if it finds success.
Of course, the retail giant may be content to let tech-focused companies lead the way and then piggyback on their innovations down the road.
Regardless, it’s likely that Walmart will be involved in the drone delivery business at least to some degree. With hopes of increasing its e-commerce sales to compete with Amazon, Walmart needs ways to keep customers happy. One-hour deliveries via drone would certainly get the job done.