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How Walmart Could Make You Ditch Amazon

Hearsay? Or just good design?

How Walmart Could Make You Ditch Amazon

It’s no secret that big-box retailers like Walmart missed the online revolution, and left a gap for Amazon to slither through and dominate. Toys R Us went bankrupt, Target is overhauling its stores, and shopping as you know it is shifting toward two extremes: convenience or “experience.”

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But a new announcement from Walmart suggests that the company isn’t going down to Amazon grocery stores and Prime Now delivery without a fight. Walmart is partnering with smartlock makers at August Home, and the delivery service Deliv, to deliver groceries straight to your refrigerator–even when you’re not home.

The test, which is launching in Silicon Valley with a few August customers, allows you to place an order on Walmart.com. The Deliv driver grabs your packages and drops them off at your home. When they ring the doorbell, you get a notification on your phone.

If you’re home, you can just let them in. If not, they have a one-time code, generated by August, which will unlock the door. Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about the security of a stranger in your house, you can tap on that smartphone notification to watch them deliver your groceries through any connected security cameras.

The strategy–which is very similar to a concept we published by Argodesign earlier this year–is sound. Amazon has consistently redesigned its service model around convenience. It undercut most online delivery with free shipping for large orders, and then free Prime two-day shipping on almost anything. Understanding the importance of speed to the consumer, the company keeps iterating to get faster. Now Amazon will deliver many things free on the same day. You can even order Prime Now groceries that arrive in just a few hours.

[Image: Walmart]
But this is not a seamless experience. Sure, Prime Now is more convenient than going to the store, but it gives you a two-hour delivery window, and you have to be home for it. That makes Prime Now the equivalent of waiting for your cable installer. I’ve burned a few afternoons sitting around the apartment when I’d rather be out–even shopping–for that delivery. Walmart’s strategy with August could help rectify that. I could not just save a trip to the grocery store; I could save the hassle of groceries altogether. 

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Even for your more standard deliveries, Walmart is acknowledging something that Amazon no doubt hopes you forget: That package waiting on your door can be stolen, and in fact, millions are every year (according to August). More than half of online shoppers worry about this happening to the 27 packages they receive on average a year. 

[Image: Walmart]
Great. Grand. Go get ’em Walmart. But it’s not really that simple, is it? Look beyond the fact that you need to invest a few hundred dollars in August gear to get started. How does Walmart convince you to let a stranger into your home?

Clearly, Walmart’s strategy now is one of surveillance. You can spy on the delivery driver! Set up cameras and watch your groceries be delivered! But nobody wants to do that long-term.

Maybe consumers really just won’t care. People are notorious for handing over security or privacy for the slightest bit of convenience. We love the instantaneous knowledge of the web, so we forget that cookies are tracking us across it all day. Maybe groceries delivered right to your fridge are enough to overshadow any weird feeling in your gut.

But I suspect that it will be Walmart’s finer points of design that settle the matter of trusting a stranger fully, that will enable the concept to be sold, not just to early Valley adopters, but to the mainstream. Uber handled this problem superbly. When you ordered a car, you saw your driver’s photo, name, vehicle model, and star rating. In just a single screen of user interface, you get so much information. You’re essentially introduced to a person you’ve never met before. You learn if other customers liked them. And you’re also prepared for the quality of ride coming your way–is it a Honda or a BMW that you’ll be riding in? Lyft went a step further, and gave its drivers giant pink mustaches to place on their cars, which packaged a service that might seem scary as joyful, fun, and perhaps more cloying than threatening.

If Walmart is serious about undercutting Amazon with this strategy of intimate deliveries, it needs to be thinking bigger than designing for convenience. It needs to design for psychology. Because, let’s face it, even if Walmart does get a measurable lead here, one thing’s for sure: Amazon will soon have its own delivery drivers jiggling the handle of your front door, too. 

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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