Walmart Inc. is bringing its in-home delivery service to Northwest Arkansas starting Wednesday.
The subscription service lets Walmart workers deliver groceries directly into customers' refrigerators, either in their kitchens or garages. In Northwest Arkansas, it will operate out of six stores reaching customers in Rogers; Bentonville; Fayetteville; Pineville, Mo.; and parts of Springdale, a Walmart spokeswoman said Thursday.
Expansion into these cities is part of the Bentonville-based retailer's ongoing efforts to test the service called InHome Delivery, the spokeswoman said.
"Northwest Arkansas is our newest market, with plans to continue to expand InHome to additional markets this year," the spokeswoman said.
Residents can check to see if their address is eligible at inhome.walmart.com. If it is, they can sign up for a 30-day free trial. After that, InHome Delivery costs $19.95 a month, and the price includes drivers' tips.
Eligible residents who sign up can then schedule installation of the "smart" lock that allows delivery employees to enter their home or garage. The lock costs $49, but installation is free.
Customers can place orders right away through Walmart's app or website. If they decide to hold off on getting the lock, orders will be delivered to their doorstep.
Walmart technicians can also enable an existing keypad lock at no charge, the company said.
Only tenured workers who've received special training are allowed to make these deliveries, Walmart said. To ensure transparency and customer security, a camera worn on the employee's vest livestreams the delivery to the customer's phone, and the door won't unlock until the camera begins streaming.
Also, an optional app sends customers delivery notifications and lets customers watch recorded video of the delivery later.
Walmart said the employees who will make the deliveries in Northwest Arkansas are being trained in a mobile "tiny home" at the Rogers Supercenter at 4208 S. Pleasant Crossing Blvd.
An outgrowth of Walmart's technology incubator Store No. 8, testing of InHome Delivery started in October 2019 in Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh; and Vero Beach, Fla.
The spokeswoman said the company is taking extra precautions with all deliveries because of health concerns related to covid-19. These include screening employees for fever at the start of their shifts.
Workers must wear a mask and gloves during every moment of the delivery; and sanitize all surfaces they touch while making the delivery, both inside customers' homes and on their own equipment.
Also, if a customer is home at the time of delivery, employees must stay at least 6 feet away from them.
InHome Delivery is one of several grocery options Walmart offers. Others include regular doorstep delivery, curbside pickup, and a new "smart" box placed outside homes that keeps delivered groceries at the proper temperature until the customer retrieves them.
Ordering groceries online has become commonplace over the past year, as the pandemic kept many shoppers either in mandated lockdowns or afraid to enter stores. Walmart executives said at the company's annual investor meeting in February that its e-commerce net sales grew 79% in the last fiscal year.
In the grocery category, Walmart said pickup and delivery services in the fourth quarter "saw record-high sales volume, reflecting continued customer shift toward e-commerce and [omnichannel] options."
Researchers say this trend is likely to keep growing even after the pandemic abates. A September study by research firm Incisiv and grocery e-commerce specialist Mercatus projects that online grocery sales will grow to 21.5% of total U.S. grocery sales by 2025 -- more than double its current share.
That would put online grocery sales at $250 billion out of the estimated overall U.S. grocery market of $1.16 trillion, according to the report.