OPERATIONS

Walmart leverages ‘employees’ for last-mile delivery initiative

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart has a new delivery team dropping off customers' online orders — but they don’t work for a major shipping company or third-party delivery venture.

The retail giant is testing a new delivery concept that leverages its own store employees to drop off online orders right at customers’ front doors. The new program is designed to solve the challenges associated with the last-mile of delivery, which include “cutting shipping costs and getting packages to their final destinations faster and more efficiently,” said Walmart’s U.S. digital chief Marc Lore.

The opt-in program, which is app-based, enables employees to set preferences, including how many packages they can deliver, the size and weight limits of those parcels, and which days they’re able to make deliveries after their work shift ends. The app also tries to minimize the collective distance associates need to travel off of their commute when making a delivery.

“Associates are fully in control of their experience. If they don’t want to participate, they don’t have to,” he said. “They can choose to opt in, and they can update those preferences at any time.”

The program is a strategic way to combat Amazon’s signature same-day delivery services. Between a network of 4,700 Walmart stores across the U.S. and more than 1 million associates, “our stores put us within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population,” Lore said.

“Now imagine all the routes our associates drive to and from work, and the houses they pass along the way,” he added. “It’s easy to see why this test could be a game-changer.”

The test is currently available in two New Jersey stores, and one in northwest Arkansas. Many orders are being delivered the next day.

Walmart associates are being paid to participate in the program, however the chain did not reveal their compensation, “Associates love having the option to earn more cash while doing something that’s already part of their daily routine,” Lore reported. “An unexpected benefit is they’re finding quicker routes home, thanks to the GPS built into our proprietary app.”

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Walmart augments training with virtual reality

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

While the industry continues to explore how to leverage virtual reality, Walmart is embracing the technology in a big way.

The retail giant will be adding VR-based instruction at its 200 Walmart Academy training centers in the United States by the end of the year. The technology will be used to educate approximately 140,000 employees that go through the program each year, according to Walmart.

Each location will have an Oculus Rift headset and gaming PC that will showcase a collection of VR training content. The content is being created by STRIVR Labs, a start-up that already creates training videos for sports teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, and the U.S. Ski Team.

In fact, it was a Walmart executive’s love of football that sparked the idea. While watching the University of Arkansas football team practice, Brock McKeel, Walmart’s senior director of central operations, was inspired by how the athletes were interacting with the VR technology during practice, and using it to test their skills and reactions in real-life scenarios. It was this discovery — and discussions with one of the coaches – this pushed McKeel to pursue how to apply VR to training at Walmart.

Currently, the technology is available in 30 academies. Associates who have gone through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t, reported Beth Harris, Walmart spokeswoman.

“We used it to train our associates to handle situations from the everyday, like managing the fresh area, to the rare, like Black Friday,” she explained. “VR allows associates to experience a lifelike store environment to experiment, learn and handle difficult situations without the need to recreate disruptive incidents or disturb the customers’ shopping experience.”

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Online giant granted patent for parachute-dropping drone

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon’s newest win aims to further improve how it delivers packages.

The online giant won a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 30, for an “aerial package delivery system.” While Amazon is no stranger to using drones, the company’s newest air-based endeavor raises the bar another notch.

Amazon’s newest system is a label that can be attached to packages dropped from an aerial vehicle — this can be via drone, or another airborne craft. However, this isn’t just any traditional label. This label includes a parachute, enabling parcels to arrive at their destination without damage.

The technology can include a self-adhesive backing, multiple parachute cords, a parachute, and a breakaway cover. The cords include a shock absorber that reduces the shock on a package when the parachute opens. The parachute and/or the breakaway cover can include graphics to provide address, velocity, or spin information for the package, according to the filing.

Jon Hanlon, senior technical program manager for Prime Air, is listed as the inventor on the patent. Amazon applied for the patent back in August 2015. The retailer didn’t reveal when the technology would be used.

This is certainly not the first patent Amazon has applied for — or been granted. This year alone, Amazon has been granted patents for the design of its Treasure Truck, a vehicle that cruises the streets of Seattle stocked with a selection of discounted products, and robotic technology designed to pick and pack orders. It also won a patent for an on-demand apparel manufacturing system comprised of a textile printer, textile cutter, and a computing device that will work in concert to design apparel once customers place an order.

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