The COVID-19 pandemic has made grocery delivery much more popular among consumers, but that popularity has come with an often frustrating price – the inability of shoppers to secure a delivery time spot, at least in the near term. Now Walmart wants to ease the delivery logjam via a new express service being rolled out to thousands of stores in the coming weeks.
The food retailer’s fledgling Express Delivery service offers consumers the chance to receive their groceries (and other retail items) within two hours of placing an online order. Walmart charges a $10 premium for Express Delivery, a charge that comes in addition to its regular delivery fees of $7.95 and $9.95. Walmart said it will make these quicker shipments to consumers via its existing delivery partners, along with its team of 74,000 personal shoppers who will pick customers’ orders. This includes additional personal shoppers hired specifically for Express Delivery.
As online grocery ordering and associated delivery services pick up steam during this era of social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, the competition to land a reasonable delivery time slot has grown. Food retailers and delivery services keep working to meet that demand. Instacart, for instance, recently said it wants to hire 250,000 additional shoppers. Even so, the ongoing growth spurt for online grocery shopping and the resulting delivery logjams present an opportunity for premium delivery services such as the one launched by Walmart.
“We know our customers’ lives have changed during this pandemic, and so has the way they shop,” said Janey Whiteside, chief customer officer, Walmart. “We also know when we come out of this, customers will be busier than ever, and sometimes that will call for needing supplies in a hurry. COVID-19 has prompted us to launch Express Delivery even faster so that we’re here for our customers today and in the future.”
Walmart said it has introduced the service to at least 100 stores, and plans to have Express Delivery available at some 2,000 stores in the coming weeks. “Express Delivery allows customers to order across more than 160,000 items from Walmart’s food, consumables and general merchandise assortment such as groceries, everyday essentials, toys and electronics,” the retailer said, adding that it imposes no mark-up on items ordered through its regular or express delivery services.
“We have an opportunity to serve our customers no matter what life calls for,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president, customer product. “Whether it be a last-minute ingredient, medicine when a fever hits, or the item you didn’t know you needed when checking off your chore list, time matters.”
The pandemic promises to change food retail. As a recent Progressive Grocer report documents, e-commerce and mobile ordering will all but certainly emerge from this pandemic in a much stronger position. Both channels were on the rise before the pandemic hit but have gained new fuel and more consumer use during the outbreak. In fact, recent figures show that online grocery sales for home delivery or store pickup reached $5.3 billion in April 2020, a 37% increase over March sales, which had already set a record.
Consumer perceptions of safety also promise to play a role with online grocery ordering and associated pickup and delivery services. The new “Deloitte Global State of the Consumer Tracker” survey report found that a mere 34% of U.S. consumers feel that it’s safe to shop inside stores. That percentage likely will rise as public health officials and medical workers bring the COVID-19 outbreak under better control and economies reopen, but habits formed during such a tense time have a way of sticking, at least according to some experts. As well, food retailers continue to invest heavily in online and mobile grocery services – one big reason is having to chase what Amazon is doing with its own grocery services – as younger consumer groups, especially millennials, increasingly demand such features and options.
It’s far too early to tell how the new Walmart premium delivery service will do, or whether enough shoppers will consider the extra charges worth it. But, for now at least, the wind seems to be at Walmart’s back.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc. operates about 11,500 stores under 56 banners in 27 countries, and ecommerce websites, employing more than 2.2 million associates worldwide. The Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer is No. 1 on Progressive Grocer’s 2019 Super 50 list of the top grocers in the United States.