Walmart announced today it will soon begin to pilot a new solution that could eventually allow the retailer to deliver groceries to customers’ homes 24 hours per day. The company is partnering with HomeValet, the maker of a temperature-controlled smart box that’s placed outside the home. Customers’ groceries can be delivered, contact-free, to the secure box and kept cold at any time — even if the customer isn’t at home.
The smart boxes will be tested initially with customers near Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, starting this spring. There won’t be a way to sign up for the service. Instead, Walmart will conduct outreach to its current delivery customers in Northwest Arkansas to learn of their interest in participating.
The HomeValet boxes themselves are an Internet of Things platform that offers three temperature-controlled zones, making them capable of storing frozen, refrigerated and pantry items. The boxes communicate with the delivery provider’s device, which gives them secure access to the smart box at the time of the delivery to place the items inside.
According to the HomeValet FAQ, the boxes also disinfect the exposed surfaces of delivered items as well as the inside of the box itself, in between deliveries, using UVC light.
This could appeal to customers who have been trying to reduce their exposure to the novel coronavirus by wiping down all their groceries before putting them away. (The HomeValet website, however, makes no specific claims about COVID-19. Instead, it simply says the UV-C LED disinfection method it uses can create “inhospitable environments to microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, molds and other pathogens.”)
HomeValet notes that Walmart customers will be the first to gain access to its boxes, as the product is just now going to market. The general public will be able to pre-order boxes for themselves later this year, with pricing still to be announced. HomeValet intends to eventually sell to both consumers and retailers.
HomeValet, a D.C. Metro area-based startup, was founded by the father and son team of John and Jack Simms, years before the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of offering more secure home deliveries. However, the pandemic created a new sense of urgency inside the company to get their product to market as consumers’ needs transformed overnight and continued at an accelerated pace, they’ve said.
As a result, HomeValet acquired an Indiana-based engineering firm, Envolve Engineering LLC, founded by former Whirlpool engineers, back in September. The company touted the deal at the time as a way to bring the capabilities of a Fortune 500 organization to its faster and more nimble startup.
“Consumers want convenience and peace of mind now more than ever. HomeValet’s safe, temperature-controlled Smart Box and app can enable 24/7 secure deliveries whether customers are occupied at home or receiving remotely,” said John Simms, HomeValet co-founder and CEO. “We’re excited for Walmart customers to be some of the first to enjoy contactless, unattended home delivery,” he added.
Though Walmart envisions how a smart box could allow it to expand its delivery hours, it won’t be offering 24/7 deliveries during the pilot. Instead, the focus of the pilot will be to learn more about if and how its customers like to interact with this technology and how Walmart might incorporate it into its operations going forward.
HomeValet is one of many solutions to date that Walmart has tested to make grocery delivery more efficient. Not all those tests have rolled out broadly. For example, Walmart in 2019 began to trial an in-home grocery delivery service that allows Walmart delivery drivers to enter the home through a smart lock system and, in some cases, put groceries away in the customer’s fridge. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Walmart pulled back on the in-kitchen program, which is still only operating in Pittsburgh. (InHome delivery is also offered in Kansas City, Vero Beach and West Palm Beach, but groceries are left inside the door.)
Walmart didn’t disclose further details about the nature of its partnership with HomeValet, but said there’s no cost to the customers during the pilot period. More information will be available as the program goes to launch in the spring.