Walmart plans to begin testing unattended, temperature-controlled boxes designed to hold groceries outside delivery customers' residences in its hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, this spring, the retailer announced in a blog post Tuesday.
The secure receptacles, developed by HomeValet, are equipped with three separate zones intended to keep frozen, refrigerated and pantry items at optimal temperatures. The boxes electronically unlock when a delivery provider arrives with an order.
Although store pickup has been Walmart's main focus to date in e-commerce, the retailer is developing new services and innovations to meet growing demand for home delivery. The company is also testing in-home delivery.
Bridging the distance between customer's homes and facilities where items are stored — the proverbial "last mile" — has long posed a challenge for grocers. Beyond contending with the costs and logistical issues that accompany the process of picking and transporting goods, food retailers also have to worry that products might spoil if a consumer isn't home to receive and immediately place perishables into the freezer or refrigerator.
HomeValet is looking to solve those problems with its automated food-storage device, which the company calls a "smart box." The units work in tandem with an app that provides updates about the temperature of the interior compartments and alerts customers when an order is delivered.
In addition to being able to maintain the cold chain, the box uses ultraviolet-C light to control mold and mildew and disinfect items after they are placed inside it. The box also uses the light to cleanse exposed surfaces after a customer removes the items.