Walmart tests crowdsourcing grocery delivery service

The discount giant takes another shot at rival Amazon with latest launch

Walmart is piloting grocery technology that uses crowdsourcing to lower the costs of last-mile delivery while offering drivers more flexible schedules.

Spark Delivery uses an in-house platform that lets drivers sign up for windows of time that work best for their schedules, and gives order details, navigation assistance and more for grocery delivery.

Spark engages the services of independent drivers who partner with Delivery Drivers Inc. (DDI), a nationwide firm that specializes in last-mile contractor management, to complete deliveries. DDI manages recruiting, screening, payment, accounting and other services related to drivers, who are paid per delivery.

"We’re saving customers time by leveraging new technology, and connecting all the parts of our business into a single seamless shopping experience: great stores, easy pickup, fast delivery, and apps and websites that are simple to use," said Greg Foran, president and CEO, Walmart U.S. "Spark Delivery is one way we’re exploring how to get quality groceries from our door to our customers’ doors."

READ: Faster delivery is the next big thing in grocery

Along with third-party crowdsourced delivery providers, Walmart is continuing its drive to offer delivery in 100 metropolitan areas, covering 40% of U.S. households. Today, the retailer delivers groceries in nearly 50 U.S. markets including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami and Seattle.

And, in Canada, Walmart introduced home delivery to select Greater Toronto Area locations early in 2017 and partnered with SPUD’s Food-X Urban Delivery service–which operates a 74,000-sq.-ft. warehouse facility–to provide online grocery to Vancouver residents earlier this year. It also has a robust click-and-collect business, with plans to double the number of pick-up points it operates this year.

Walmart employs more than 25,000 personal shoppers in the U.S., up from 18,000 earlier this year, who power the grocery delivery program, with thousands more being added. The shoppers are required to complete a three-week training program to learn how to select the freshest produce and the best cuts of meat for online grocery customers.

The company's new grocery e-commerce program is similar to one already offered by arguably Walmart's chief rival: Amazon. Amazon Flex allows people to deliver packages for the e-commerce giant and make $18 to $25 an hour doing so. A dedicated app allows drivers to choose when and where they wish to make deliveries, scans packages on pickup, gives the drop-off location with suggested directions, and shares information on earnings made through deliveries. Currently, the service is available in more than 80 cities, with more to come.

READ: New Amazon service lets delivery people unlock front doors

Amazon frames the service as one that empowers drivers to live a less-interrupted life and even follow their dreams–from scheduling delivery assignments before or after a child's soccer game to taking a few weeks off for a kickboxing workshop.

"Sometimes it feels like you have to choose between earning money and having a life," Amazon noted in a video detailing Flex. "It doesn't have to be like that."

This isn't the first time Walmart has relied on crowdsourcing to deliver groceries. Last June, the mega-retailer announced an opt-in program that allows associates to make some extra money by delivering online orders to customers' homes on their commute home from work. The program, which began its test at two stores in New Jersey and one in northwest Arkansas, was developed to enable participating associates to select how many packages they could deliver, the size and weight limits of the packages, and which days they could make deliveries after work.

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