Walmart is sliding into the drone pilot seat.
The retail giant on Wednesday said it will start testing drone deliveries of online orders. The program lifts off today in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where select grocery and household items will be flown from local Walmart stores to shoppers’ doorsteps.
The drones are being supplied by third-party Flytrex, an end-to-end drone delivery firm with proprietary cloud technology. According to Walmart, Flytrex drones will be controlled using a “smart and easy” dashboard and will offer “valuable insight” into how contactless, on-demand delivery might work in the future.
“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” Walmart customer product executive Tom Ward wrote in a blog post. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”
Walmart’s venture follows a sales boom ignited by the coronavirus pandemic, which saw its online sales nearly double in the last quarter and same-store sales surge by 9%.
And it comes just weeks after competitor Amazon received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate its own drone deliveries through its Prime Air division. The two companies are longstanding rivals in the retail world, vying for market dominance amid the heightened stakes of the ongoing pandemic, which saw consumers stock up on bulk goods en masse as nonessential stores were forced to close down.
The battle for the skies adds a new arena to their ongoing war. In the last few years, Amazon has expanded into Walmart’s territory by rolling out several brick-and-mortar locations, and next week, Walmart will launch its Walmart Plus membership service, which is akin to Amazon Prime.