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story.lead_photo.caption This Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, photo shows corporate signage at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla. Walmart is testing a service that lets a delivery person walk into a customer's home when they're not there to drop off packages or put groceries in the fridge. The retailer says the service is for busy families who don't have time to stop at a store.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s latest convenience-oriented test will give delivery workers access to customers' homes to drop off packages and put groceries in their refrigerators.

The pilot program began in Silicon Valley earlier this week and involves partnerships with delivery service Deliv and August Home, a technology company that produces smart-home devices such as locks and security cameras. A small group of August Home customers in Silicon Valley who volunteered to be part of the test can order items online at Walmart.com and won't have to be home during time of delivery to have those products brought inside.

Instead, Deliv drivers will have access to a one-time, pre-authorized passcodes that will enable them to open the August Home lock and enter a customer's home. Packages will be dropped off in the house, while grocery items that need to be refrigerated or frozen will be put away.

"What might seem novel today could be the standard tomorrow," Sloan Eddleston, Wal-Mart's vice president of e-commerce strategy and business operations, said in a blog post. "This may not be for everyone -- and certainly not right away -- but we want to offer customers the opportunity to participate in tests today and help us shape what commerce will look like in the future."

Wal-Mart is optimistic any uneasy thoughts of strangers wandering around in homes will be eased by the fact customers can be in control of the process the entire time.

Shoppers volunteering for the service can monitor the entire delivery process on home security cameras through the August Home app. They'll also receive a text message when the driver arrives at their home with the items and a notification once the delivery is done and the lock is closed.

Neil Stern, a senior partner with Chicago-based McMillon Doolittle, believes the in-home delivery unveiled by Wal-Mart is a potential solution to one challenge in retail.

"One of the perpetual issues of e-commerce for grocery is scheduling deliveries and dealing with highly perishable products," Stern said. "This is one workaround, but obviously requires a huge leap of faith from a safety and security standpoint. I do applaud Wal-Mart for creativity here and for being on offense lately against Amazon -- leading rather than reacting."

The program is one of many tests or services Wal-Mart has introduced as it continues to compete with Amazon.com and other retailers. Each has been aimed at making shopping easier for customers as the retail landscape continues to evolve because of technology and innovation.

Wal-Mart introduced two-day free shipping on millions of items earlier this year and also unveiled a pickup discount program, which offered lower prices on items ordered online and picked up by customers at one of the retailer's 4,600 stores. More recently, Wal-Mart introduced an easy reorder feature that registers in-store and online purchases and saves them to a shopper's purchase history.

The company is delivering groceries in a handful of markets through a partnership with ride-hailing service Uber. Another test is taking place at a few Wal-Mart stores -- including one in Northwest Arkansas -- in which employees are dropping off packages on their way home from work shifts.

Annibal Sodero, an assistant professor at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said Wal-Mart is showing a willingness to experiment in search of services that resonate with customers. But the potential pitfalls surrounding its latest idea could impact the effectiveness.

"What about insurance? What if a robbery happens? What if the wrong product is delivered?" Sodero said. "If you think about the principles, the idea of trying to make delivery cheaper and more effective and more efficient, that's OK. But they have to be very careful in terms of the challenges, the legal issues involved in this."

Wal-Mart did not specify how long it plans to conduct the in-home delivery pilot or how many customers have signed up to participate. It also didn't disclose any fees associated with deliveries.

Spokesman Ravi Jariwala said Wal-Mart will evaluate different prices throughout the test.

"We want to start small and evaluate the feedback, talk with customers and then figure out what the next step might be," Jariwala said.

Business on 09/23/2017

Print Headline: Wal-Mart tests store-to-fridge service

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