Retailers

Why Walmart Jumped on the Delivery 'Express'

Faster delivery option fits a changing value proposition for shut-in shoppers
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

Walmart this week released additional details of its Express Delivery service, highlighting what it called the “why and how” of the new service that allows online shoppers to pay up for faster fulfillment.

The update came in the wake of a mixed reception from some industry watchers, who interpreted the offering as a pivot from Walmart’s traditional focus on low costs and low prices and—like many recent omnichannel efforts for the Bentonville, Ark.-based mass merchant—landing on the “Live Better” rather than “Save Money” side of its motto. That prospect, they say, could trigger more hardship on a shopper base already feeling the economic wreckage of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to Express Delivery, which carries a $10 charge on top of standard delivery fees, Walmart in recent months has rolled out a subscription-based Unlimited Delivery option for $98 a year that reportedly could be shaping into a full-blown paid benefits program called Walmart+ and introduced an In Home service in some markets that for $19.95 per month, plus the cost of smart-lock system, is delivering groceries into consumer’s homes.

As newly installed U.S. CEO John Furner explained in a presentation earlier this year, the notion of saving time in addition to money was at the heart of a “next level” vision the company is now aspiring to.

“I know we can take this [Supercenter] format to the next level. And to me, the next level is finding ways to serve all of Americans a truly comprehensive end-to-end shopping experience. And that's an experience where they can come into a store, they can stop in a parking lot, pick up a pickup order; they can have anything that they want delivered to their doorsteps; or they can even have their refrigerator stocked. And for many customers, we know it’s going to be a combination of all these things. So that scale that gives us a unique advantage."

 “We serve all of America, including people who are looking for new services that can help them save not only money but save time,” Furner continued. “And we’ve got an opportunity to get customers to do even more shopping with us.”

As to Express Delivery, Walmart executives in a new blog post describe it as an offering right for the moment: Enabling a fast, safe and contact-free option for shopping that meets consumer demands amid the coronavirus pandemic. Express was not specifically designed for a COVID-infected shopping world, officials added, but was hustled through testing and rollout as conditions favoring it changed.

“The coronavirus pandemic has upended life as we knew it and has also changed how our customers shop, with many American families sheltering in place and relying heavily on online deliveries,” read the post, co-authored by Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside and Suresh Kumar, global technology officer and chief development officer. “Customers all over the world are testing the limits of no-contact shopping from curbside pickup to delivery options—not just for convenience but for their own health. Our mission to save our customers time and money in order to allow them to live better rings true now more than ever.”

The “how” is artificial intelligence, Walmart said, accounting for thousands of variables—from driver and shopper availability to the weather, estimated driving times and the composition of the basket—that will determine if Express Delivery even shows up as an option for consumers at checkout. “The timing of how quickly orders are first prepared and then delivered become learning signals that feed back into our algorithms so we can further improve our timing estimates for future orders,” Walmart said.

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