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Wal-Mart Plans to Test Grocery Delivery Through Uber, Lyft (bloomberg.com)
199 points by petethomas on June 3, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments

UK supermarkets are a bit ahead of the curve here. All the large ones have a home delivery service, including Walmart-owned ASDA. It's quite cheap too: £1-6 if you buy £40, for various time slots. They all use their own vehicles and staff, so I suppose Wal-Mart can reduce the risk by using Uber/Lyft. I wonder though, does this mean no active cooling on the way? Can you trust that the ice cream is still frozen when it arrives?

I have found home delivery very useful, especially after having a baby. I don't enjoy going to a supermarket after work on weekdays, but receiving a delivery is easy and means the weekend is free. The main psychological barrier is that it takes surprisingly long to choose groceries online, almost as long as walking around the store. They try to make it easier by suggesting things you usually order, but it's still something you have set aside time for.

The main psychological barrier is that it takes surprisingly long to choose groceries online, almost as long as walking around the store

I think this is part of why I don't get food delivered; I'm quite close to the store and wandering round the aisles is a good prompt for buying things. Especially as I'm very special-offer-driven.

I've been considering writing a random recipe generator/selector to help with this. "Why not buy $(meat) and $(vegetable), $(cooking_process) it and serve with $(sidedish)?" Add a "That is a terrible idea, computer" button to tweak the Markov parameters a bit and bam, MVP.

(Yes, I know the special offers are something of a con, but I also have a good idea of what the non-offer prices are!)

IBMs Watson has something like you're describing https://www.ibmchefwatson.com/

There are lots of services already like that.... first one I found when googling: http://www.supercook.com/

Its interesting that in the UK, its more environmentally friendly to have your groceries delivered than to drive out and get them yourself because of the efficiency of the specialised delivery vans that have refrigerated racks for 100s of pallet\trays and then do a route in cities\suburbs serving dozens of orders in close proximity.

Some random taxi driver sticking a pallet in their boot (sorry, trunk) seems like a pretty crap and expensive alternative.

It seems like a reasonable way to experiment. The history of online grocery delivery in the US is littered with companies like Webvan that made huge infrastructure investments up-front on the "if you build it they will come" model. This seems like a really sensible way to find out if there is a market for almost zero investment.

Webvan failed because their VCs wanted them to expand to many cities rapidly, and they ended up with 3% market share in 30 cities, instead of a profitable 30% market share in 3 cities.

Webvan is back. Try "http://www.webvan.com/". It's part of Amazon now. Webvan's operations head and some of his team went to Amazon. Amazon management observed that customers liked Webvan, and it would be a viable business if they could get the operating cost down. So the Webvan group was part of the effort to robotize Amazon's operations and build more local warehouses. Expansion is more cautious this time, but profitable.

Part of the issue is that companies like Webvan and Instacart exist. There's not really a whole lot of money in it - supermarkets in the UK manage to charge anywhere between £0 and a whopping £7. The thing is, if you don't provide online shopping as a supermarket, your customers will just use another supermarket's online shop.

Unless they just want back-fill for volume. They can back fill using random Taxi for less than the cost of building / buying a truck that rarely gets used. Sort of like peaking power plants, their fuel costs are extreme. But if you only need them for ~5% of your power ~5% of the time that's 0.25% which is negligible.

Similarly, if you don't know expected volumes a test run without large capital / personnel costs is very reasonable.

The biggest barrier to widespread adoption of grocery delivery in the USA is the lower population density. It's very common in the large cities/metro areas, and has been around for years.

Regarding your comment on choosing groceries online:

My wife is a huge fan of Walmart-To-Go (order online, pull up to a designated station in a parking lot at your convenience, and they bring them out and load them into your vehicle), and now gets the shopping done in minutes, because after you first few orders, the app does a very good job of letting your past orders inform new ones.

The biggest barrier for us has been quality and availability of fresh produce. There are 4 grocery stores very close to us and we usually end up hitting each one over the course of a week to see what's actually worth buying.

There's a fair amount of standard stuff we buy as well, but if we're already in the stores it doesn't take that much additional time to grab it.

I have to wonder if grocery profit margins were higher 50 years ago, when home delivery was as common as episodes of The Voice.

American supermarkets have numerous options for delivery, many of them provided by the same brand, but only Instacart has come close to delivering an experience I can endorse. Their employees are professional and have been taught to provide an easy, pleasant delivery experience.

The first time I tried Amazon Fresh the mailman showed up in the morning before his route with my groceries rolling around in the back of the mail truck. I unloaded them myself, and also had to give back the re-usable bags before he left.

I don't find Instacart to be any better than the other services I've used. Peapod is just as good, if not better.

The difference is the Peapod delivers their own goods while instacart can deliver from several places. AFAIK Peapod doesn't operate in LA.

Population density in the UK is very different from the US.

Only if you assume they need to expand across Alaska or something. There are already several profitable grocery delivery company's out there, they just don't cover the entire US.

And many of them also only cover a certain radius from specific urban centers. For example, I live about an hour outside of Boston and I can get Peapod but not Instacart or Google Express.

What is the ordering experience like? Do you have a set order that comes on a regular basis? Or are they one-off orders, or a mix?

Mine are always one off orders. I'll log on, choose an hourly timeslot for delivery and then browse down a list of products i've purchased before (both online and instore) and chose which ones I want to be delivered. It takes about 10-15 minutes to do and they will deliver everything right to my door. It ends up being a huge timesaver compared to having to go to and from the supermarket and pick everything out.

I tend to place an order about once every 2-3 weeks, and supplement it with "top up" shops for fresh items (meat, veg etc) in a mini-supermarket on my way home from work every so often.

> then browse down a list of products i've purchased before (both online and instore) and chose which ones I want to be delivered

That's cool. So they keep a history of everything you've purchased? Do they do that by credit card or do you log in some how when you purchase instore?

Loyalty card, presumably.

All the stores have loyalty cards which link on and off line shopping.

You create an account on the site. Why complicate it?

I feel like a "mini-supermarket" is just a market; the super and mini should cancel each other out. :-)

I think "supermarket" originally meant any store where you pick the goods yourself, rather than asking at the counter.

Heh yeah, it's a bit of a contradictory term, but it's the only 'generic' way to describe it that I know of. Most of them are branded with the store's name with a suffix like 'local', 'express' or 'metro'

The US doesn't really have that class of store for some reason. Even in urban areas, there tend to be either full-fledged grocery stores or "convenience stores" like 7-11 which have minimal fresh food. There are certainly exceptions but they tend to be local one-off markets. AFAIK, there aren't any widespread versions of the express/metro markets like you see in the UK.

There are sort of tiers in the U.S. I would think of something like this for things we have in the Southeast US:

* Convenience Store

* Dollar store (a little more food options at places like Dollar General/Tree/Family Dollar, usually with a small refrigerator section and eggs and milk and juice)

* "Mini" grocery stores, like Piggly Wiggly Express or Dollar General Market

* Stores with mostly food and limited selection like Aldi

* Supermarkets like Kroger and Publix

* Supercenters like Super Walmart and Super Target with full supermarket selection and lots of other stuff

My stores would get a lot more of my business if they had better interfaces. I can pop over to the grocers, buy $200-$300 worth of grocers and be home in about half an hour. Using their website takes just about as long and then I have to wait a few hours for delivery.

As someone who has used Sainsburys, Asda, Tesco and Ocado. There is much room for improvement in the ordering process. Ocado are the best, but they are expensive.

Sainsburys pulled their dedicated app and you have to use the crappy mobile web.

They remember and pre-load your order for you, but you can modify it freely before making it. I'd agree with the sibling comment though - they're not standout good online experiences, and I haven't tried any of them on mobile.

> The main psychological barrier is that it takes surprisingly long to choose groceries online, almost as long as walking around the store.

Then again, the amount you can order online is a lot larger than what you can carry yourself.

I tend to order from wholesalers online, for amounts that would require a cab and a lot of carrying heavy stuff if I purchased that physically.

> UK supermarkets are a bit ahead of the curve here. All the large ones have a home delivery service

Same in Australia.

Safeway in the US has home delivery from their own trucks.

I've had a terrible experience with safeway delivery in redwood city.

Two days ago, they delivered 1/3 of what they were meant to. So, they scheduled a re-delivery for the following day for the remaining items. Again, they forgot two of them.

Yes, and they have refrigeration.

Safeway has a nice approach to scheduling. You can request a 1-hour, 2-hour, or 4-hour delivery window. Shorter windows cost more.

Yeah and they have for a very long time too. I remember getting Safeway delivered like 10-15 years ago. And that was in a pretty small town too.

The grocery stores I grew up going to in CO had delivery too, I think it was just primarily targeted at the elderly and disabled.

King Soopers (Kroger) has it in Colorado, as do a few local ones...That said, I don't know anyone that uses it.

Justin King (former CEO of Sainsburys in the UK) said that their data showed that people start ordering groceries for home delivery is when they start a family.

After a few weeks, when (usually) the mother of the new baby is willing to venture out, she will visit the grocery store to buy extra things.

Turns out that the spending level of online groceries doesn't drop, but the spending level of ad-hoc in-store purchases does, resulting in an overall increase in spending.

This is true for my family. The UK also has seen an increase of convenience stores which carry a 5% price premium. People like to by a little often, than to buy a lot every week.

The behaviour of grocery shopping has shifted a lot in the past 5 years in the UK.

Edit: Spelling and clarity

> people start ordering groceries for home delivery is when they start a family.

This certainly matches our experience. We've been using Google Express a ton to get the regular necessities that come with having children: diapers, cheerios, food for lunches, etc.

We have a grocery store within walking distance that we still visit regularly for produce, perishables, and the odd ingredients that dinner sometimes requires.

I'm always surprised grocery delivery is still a big deal in the US. All the major supermarkets in the UK do home delivery, next day, for a £3-5 delivery fee. You can go the site, fill your basket, and checkout. You also get a 1-2 hour delivery slot so you don't have to wait at home all day. We also have Amazon Prime Now doing grocery delivery within 1 hour in some cities. I can see how it would be a problem in some less densely populated areas in the US but how it's not done in all cities is beyond me. Any one know?

My guess is that its due to traditionally very sprawled out cities in the US. Huge amounts of the population live miles away from grocery stores. I think in New York you were able to get delivery for years for groceries if you were willing to pay the local grocer extra.

When I lived in New York 5 years ago, every grocery store I went to had some sort of delivery option.

Can you order through their website, app, etc? I'm not going to call in a weeks grocery shopping over the phone.

Peapod, fresh direct, Google shopping express, max delivery, Amazon fresh, to name a few. We use peapod for almost all of our groceries, ordering about every other week

Even a lot of bodegas have their own little websites for ordering.

A fair amount of US grocery stores do as well. Our local grocery store has a pick up option as well as a delivery. Another a few miles down the road near a restaurant we enjoy also has a (free) place for us to charge our car why we shop.

I am hesitant to adopt them. I guess we are finicky about how we shop. Fearful of the bad head of lettuce or banana or what have you. Or how will we know they didn't chose the yogurt that expires in two days over the one that has two weeks?

What my girlfriend and I do is use AnyList (there are multiple other apps, but we are liking this one). And start at opposite ends of the store. Checking off the list real time as we shop.

I am hesitant to adopt them. I guess we are finicky about how we shop. Fearful of the bad head of lettuce or banana or what have you. Or how will we know they didn't chose the yogurt that expires in two days over the one that has two weeks?

There are ways around this though. Using Ocado in the UK, they will specify minimum lifetimes for all of the products you order and display them prominently (for example, in the iPhone app: https://www.dropbox.com/s/3d0awqydeqq386v/2016-06-03%2019.58...)

I'm pretty sure they'll also refund anything you aren't happy with, which helps to keep quality high.

> Fearful of the bad head of lettuce or banana or what have you

In the UK you simply tell the delivery driver that you're not happy with the item and he marks it for refund. Generally they hand the item back as well, no point carrying it back to the store to be dumped.

Home delivery was very common in the US years ago but started to become more uncommon probably in the 1970s. When I was a kid we still had a milkman too, those are mostly gone today as well.

> those are mostly gone today as well Interesting perspective. This is what happens when the internet comes in to play, even news paper readership has gone down aswell due to the rise of many digital mediums for people to get their news from. I was also listening to a radio program about the evening news and the big 4 networs (ABC/CBS/NBC) trying to stay relevant because the news they report is something that has already hit the internet. What do you think of this ?

At least in NYC, the local chains will do same day delivery.

I think it's a matter of geography/density

It's a combination of geography/density and not being able to easily hop in a car and park (for free) at a grocery store. The delivery equation totally shifts once you have to carry your groceries home or take a cab/Uber.

So do a number of US groceries, either independently or through a service, including Google Express (or both.)

And we had Prime Now first.

Also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webvan as early as 1996.

Well, Amazon Prime Now was available here first. Especially here in Seattle, hometown of Amazon after all.

If you do it in the evening it's only £1 usually. Hardly any reason to go to the supermarket anymore.

Strangely, the small merchants in India are doing a great job when it comes to door delivery of groceries.

Even over 15-20 years back, my mom used to get door delivery of the month's groceries by just making a phone call. One of the reason's for the success of this model was that most customers did not have a car to transport all of their groceries and phone-order was the easiest option available to them. (I'm talking about the late 90s when Internet was not that common).

Of course, it works on the assumption that the customer exactly knows what they want - rather than making them buying arbitrary items at the store.

Most of the merchants circulate their menu/deals along with newspapers and have a phone number that customers can reach them at. All you do is decide on what you want to order and then call the merchant at the given number. They deliver all the items at your house within a couple of hours. It uses the idea of "Cash on Delivery" i.e., you make your payment in-person to the delivery person. This method has been in practice for so many years that customers are quite used to the entire process and the merchants make sure that the delivery is processed as comfortably as possible.

Isn't this a bit going the wrong way somehow?

Growing up, mom went grocery shopping once every 2 weeks. We'd load up 2 or 3 shopping carts that filled 8 or 10 grocery bags.

One auto trip every 2 weeks for groceries.

With all the delivery services for restaurants, groceries, and more and more sundries, the trips to my house are made for less and less 'stuff' per trip. More trips per household obviously means more gasoline burned.

With Amazon or FedEx, at least it's a truck on a route with several dozen deliveries to make. But this Uber/Lyft scheme looks to likely be 1, maybe 2, deliveries per trip.

How did you guys keep vegetables fresh for 2 weeks? That's usually why i go a couple times a week. Usually buy a pack of meat to have for a few nights of dinner, vegetables to use as well. Then get more once it's used up.

There was a time when canned and frozen vegetables were more common than fresh. I can't eat them today, but that's what we ate growing up.

Same. Most veggies we either grew in the backyard garden or were frozen from the store. People don't remember that the vast fresh produce sections you see at most supermarkets today are relatively new. Back then you might have lettuce, carrots, potatoes, and maybe a few other things available fresh and the quality was not always great.

I still remember this from 1999-2000 in the Silicon Valley...I was shocked, fresh products were hard to find and very expensive. In France it never disappeared, we always had fresh sections in supermarkets on top of fresh market at walking distance twice a week.

It is possibly even more shocking today: The best organic produce can be found at Costco. I've bought blackberries there the size of my thumb, and they tasted like a dessert wine. Never had anything like it, let alone from Costco.

"Organic" is a marketing buzzword.

There's actually an argument to be made that some frozen or canned vegetables have higher nutrient content than the equivalent "fresh" vegetables at the grocery store, since the frozen ones are harvested closer to peak readiness and packed proximal to farms, versus the "fresh" veggies which may be harvested well in advance of when they're ready to give them adequate time for long transit to stores and a reasonable duration of shelf stability. I believe this is the case for tomatoes—not sure which other crops.

Unless you've grown them yourself, canned tomatoes will generally make a tastier pasta sauce than their fresh counterparts.

The shipment of bananas is interesting. They're transported in either bulk vessels or in containers. During transport the ripening process is prevented (think just by means of ventilation). The transport can take several weeks. Then on arrival they let it ripen, making the bananas turn yellow.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#Storage_and_transport (too brief though)

You start off early in the 2 weeks eating the perishables. Fruits, lettuce, etc. Mushrooms get used day 1. By the end of the 2 weeks you are roasting squash, having tomato sauce, etc.

In the past, people actually didn't go grocery shopping all winter. They didn't just eat dry beans, the entire world of cuisine exists because people are always finding ways to eat around the constraints of their growing season.

I think it is going the wrong way temporarily. I expect the vast proliferation of delivery startups will consolidate so that it will just be ups/fedex/uber/? each stopping at 1/6 the residences twice a day. It will still be fewer miles driven per item than in the days when each household made point to point round-trips for everything.

Depends on the country. I shop for food almost daily (basically buy as I need; store almost nothing). There's a supermarket 100 meters away. Another 150 meters. Last one (with bad opening times) is 200 meters. Next one is then 1 km away or so.

If within walking/cycling distance your habits change quite a bit.

This is going to take a bit of magic to pull off. Groceries are very low margin items and people just opt for pre-made restaurant food when we are feeling lazy. When I'm motivated enough to prepare my own food I'm motivated enough to go to the grocery store. This is the domain of driver-less delivery vehicles of whatever kind.

UK experience suggests there's a decent market for delivered groceries: these stats (http://www.igd.com/Research/Shopper-Insight/Pushing-online-s...) from 2015 say that 11% of shoppers used online-shopping-with-delivery for their main shop, and 26% had used it at least once in the past month. So there is a decent demand there willing to pay delivery charges that can sustain a with-human-driver style delivery service.

I worked with a guy who used to work at the head office of a Canadian grocery chain.

Apparently the grocery shopping habits of UK/European consumers is considerably different than North Americans and so something that works in one market doesn't necessarily translate across the Atlantic.

In the UK, my old supermarket had a couple of aisles of prepared chilled meals. Lots of variety, and a lot of it was pretty good quality. You just don't get that in North America, and apparently it's because NA consumers tend to go to the grocery store once per week, where in the UK it's multiple times per week. So over here the convenience meals are frozen and icky. Blurgh!

Similarly, I could imagine the economics of delivery would be vastly different. The UK has tightly packed cities with high population density, meaning your delivery vehicles don't have far to go between stops. NA has large spread out suburbs with lots of driving to get anywhere...

I imagine the availability of fresh prepared stuff is also somewhat driven by population density. I've certainly seen more fresh chopped vegetables in stores that serve more people.

Huh. That might explain why the Canadian online grocery experience is so far behind the UK, let alone the U.S.

"Feeling lazy" and deciding not to prepare food is a different problem than not taking ingredients on hand and not wanting to go to the store because of any of a variety of reasons (teething baby, poor air quality day -- especially for asthmatics, or just disliking the in suite experience at the local grocery, etc.)

For you maybe there is no difference between having time and desire to prepare food and having willingness to go to the site, but you aren't the whole market.

True, but I feel like food prep and cleanup is a much bigger deal than the actual trip to the store. I've had the teething baby and can tell you the trip to the store was not the hard part. Unless this is remarkably inexpensive I don't think the "making ends meet/clipping coupons" family crowd is going to use this with any regularity.

Interesting you say that. I was just having a long conversation recently about how grocery is one area I wish could be... innovated in(I do not like the term 'disrupted'). From a store's perspective, items are rather low margin. From a producer's, they are not (as purchased in retail).

Outside of the multitude of 'walmart' farmers' stories, I remember rather recently reading of a lady who made salsa, who made cents per jar sold on an item that cost a few dollars to the consumer.

This means there is heavy markup at someplace, which I suspect is at the distribution and delivery. It was evident to me when, to make a pizza of high quality with many toppings, it ended up costing me more than even the local chains charged (greatly reducing the 'economy of scale'). There are billionaires in this particular realm, Walton's excluded, see Richard Cohen.

This also makes me wonder if then, distributors like C&S, Sysco, or Gordon Food Service would get into the personal delivery game. In the end, it seems rather silly to deliver goods twice.

There are also moms (and sometimes dads) at home with a small kids. And they may be highly motivated to avoid journey to a grocery store.

I understand what you meant, but a trip to the grocery store can also be a perfect way to get their energy out if the kids are particularly bananas that day. So, some parents relish that trip.

Exactly. For my toddlers I also view it as training in some level of obedience (not running to the other side of the store), social interaction, dealing with disappointment (no you can't have the batman matchbox car set), learning about money (goes in hand with the disappointment factor!), helping me to pick out food, learning what stuff is called, a little hide and seek fun within the obedience bounds...it's like a little slice of life learning all in one place.

Overall it is a challenge for a parent though, so I'm not convinced that many won't just stay at home and order food from an app with the kids watching TV.

This. In my parenting life, I feel there are so many decision where you have to choose between optimizing the short term or the long term. I tend to favor the long term and my philosophy is roughly: the difficult path becomes easier and the easy path becomes more difficult.

Loblaws, a big Canadian grocery chain, has really been pushing their Click and Collect service lately. You shop and pay for your groceries online. A staff member will go around the store getting your items, and you park in a designated area in a certain time slot and they bring your groceries out to your car.

I guess most people using the service order groceries at the office and pick them up on the drive home.

I'm not in their target demo because I don't have kids and my life isn't that busy, but i've been surprised at how busy the designated parking spots seem to be whenever I go to one of their stores. I've just checked their website and there are no fees for using their service as long as you spend $30.

I will add the elderly to this list. Especially as the population ages, there's going to be a portion of the population who are well enough to not need some sort of assisted living, but are not going to be okay enough to drive. Grocery delivery service might be very helpful to this group.

Agreed, and I'm in the boat. However those same people tend to have less disposable income and seem to be less apt to pay monthly fees or premiums for luxuries. When you think families think more bulk generic costco toilet paper and less "convenience fee" of any kind

While I agree there's an inevitable correlation there, since children are (reductionistically, financially) an expense and households that have an additional expense will be poorer than their equivalent household without that expense, I think you may still be overstating the poverty-inducing effects of children a wee bit.

I've been Single Income/Single, Dual Income No Kids (DINK), dual income with kids and single income with kids. Kids won't completely destroy your finances but 529 plans/day care alone can put a hurting on your finances.

You become much more financially responsible and less likely to pay for luxury services (for yourself) like HBO, Spotify, Netflix, Gym membership, high lease car payment etc after you have kids.

We have a local place that does your grocery shopping for you but they charge a markup of 20-25%. That seems like a lot at first, but for $40 worth of groceries I'm only spending $10 to not have to drive to and from the store, and walk around for 30 minutes collecting items. Saves me an hour total or 45 minutes on the way home from work.

this is exactly why services like blue-apron and instacart are successful. Obviously they'll have growing pains, other humans will NEVER make the same decisions yourself might(shopping for yourself) but they're so incredibly convenient that other annoyances don't really matter.

Blue Apron is pretty different although, like delivery, it eliminates overhead associated with cooking. It doesn't really work for me but I can understand the attraction for people who don't mind some prep/cooking so long as someone assembles everything they need for a meal and delivers it.

I could see using the service but I drive right past a supermarket to and from work so there's not much in the way of time or travel saved.

The local Walmart here experimented with something similar a few years ago, not using Uber but using customers at the store. Shoppers could get store credit in exchange for delivering orders on their way home. They don't do it anymore so it must not have worked well.

The typical grocery delivery service bumps up the margins.

The typical grocery delivery service also has the luxury of batching orders (controlling cost) and delivers with refrigerated vehicles (consistent product)...seems more sustainable to me...but what do I know - to me, the Uberization of most markets (other than ride sharing) never seems to have a clear win on cost/benefit...

Also important for cost: An online supermarket can save a ton on rent by having fewer, much bigger fulfilment centres, located in cheaper slightly out of the way industrial zones. Classic supermarkets are generally in commercially attractive areas, close to traffic hubs or in downtown locations.

This is massive in the UK. Ocado run nothing but heavily automated warehouses as their online only, and a lot of the big supermarkets are starting to run similar locations optimised for delivery packing. Somewhat tangentially I've even heard of a couple of restaurant chains opening dark stores which do nothing but fulfil delivery orders.

I kind of question how much additional margin the average person will tolerate though. Will the same mom that spends time clipping coupons (or printing them) be willing to pay what it takes to make this worthwhile for Walmart? That's the demographic you want to entice if you want to make grocery delivery successful, not Johnny Ramen College kid.

Sure and why would people use an app for a ride when they could just hail a cab or drive themselves?

Hailing a cab wasn't a viable or affordable option if you lived in the vast part of the United States prior to Uber. Your options used to be 1) don't go out 2) find a designated driver 3) don't drink, or 4) drink and drive.

I've got a ton more options on how to procure food.

But couldn't you have made the same "this will never work" argument when Uber launched? Recall it was originally only available in major cities that had taxis you could hail (at least in theory) and was significantly more expensive than a cab.

I think grocery and other same-day retail delivery is going to be huge, even if it seems a little weird and unnecessary at first.

I didn't even know about Uber until it was relatively established so I'm not sure how I would have felt about it in the really early days, I probably would have been skeptical. I can honestly say when I did hear about it I thought it was an amazing idea.

When I feel lazy I go home and cook a meal for the family just like normal rather than spending the whole week's food budget on going to a restaurant.

It's common here (a poor part of the UK) for people to take a taxi home from the supermarket. So I can see it could work if all the supermarket's didn't already do delivery as they do here.

I would pay a small premium for a 'pick up at store' service like I can at some retailers. Buy the item online, go to the store, go to the customer service counter and pickup the your purchases.

Imagine just going to the grocery store drive-through and picking up your groceries that you've chosen beforehand.

I am not sure where you live but this is pretty common in the north east (ShopRite etc.). To me though, I feel like there are misaligned incentives when employees pick food vs. the customer picks the food. Why should the employee care if the bread is going bad tomorrow instead of a week? The added time-savings just don't offset that concern for me.

I can't say that concerns with expiration dates are high on my list of issues when I'm grocery shopping. That said, if I'm going to order online anyway, I'm not sure why I wouldn't just have it delivered--maybe for a few bucks more--than driving to the store. Maybe if I'm not very mobile but can still drive, but then I still need to unload the car. I don't really understand the use case.

Sometimes you can't be sure when you'll be at home to receive them.

There's still a time window for pickup though. So you have to schedule in any case.

We have this in the UK for several large supermarkets (Walmart-owned ASDA for example), as well as regular home-delivery. I believe ASDA brand it as 'click and collect' - When you arrive at the store, you go to a touchscreen kiosk and enter some code and someone comes out with a pallet of your shopping so you can take it to your car.

I use walmarts site2store some times; I would use it more if they would allow me to use it for groceries (they don't let you use it for 'perishable' products).

There's a walmart near me that has been testing this. And it is essentially a drive thru. You place an order online (its for groceries, so yes you can order perishables), and have the option to either drive to the store park in a designated parking spot and push a button, an associate brings out your order, OR, they'll deliver it to your home.

At least in the Northeast US, Hannaford has started offering this. Personally, I'm not interested but I see the benefit for some people.

Call me old fashioned but I still would trust UPS/FedEx more with my packages - as opposed to contracted amateurs. Granted, last mile delivery is always a challenge...

How long until you can get a freight van through uber's subprime leasing program?

FedEx used to operate like that - the drivers were private contactors who had to buy their own equipment:



In the UK we have Yodel, which is essentially 'contracted amateurs' delivering in their own vehicles.

I'd be ok with it if the package had a security seal on it...

Agreed, but to be fair that was how I felt about having Uber driving me around when I first heard about it a few years ago.

And that's why I don't use Uber, their drivers are much less professional (smoking, loud music, don't know the area, poor driving skills) than taxi drivers.

Planning in advance could really save a lot of gas, time and money if customers decided to shop online more. The last mile seems like a tough headache in term of logistics, but I'm sure there are many people who would love to not go shopping if it was convenient enough.

Although I don't think it will viable at first, so I doubt that market will really grow, since the economies of scale only happen if enough people shop online in a small region. Ultimately companies like Walmart still want customers to roam in their supermarkets to buy things they did intend to, as a virtual store and online ads seems less appealing than a customer just wandering in an aisle and discovering an article.

It would also reduce traffic in cities.

I'm torn between wanting somebody to compete with Amazon and it being Walmart

While I was caught up in the anti-Walmart meme [and I'm using "meme" dismissively] for many years, today Walmart provides jobs in my community and those jobs appear to be stable with regular shifts because I often see the same cashiers at the same times one year to the next. I'll add that Walmart also generates local sales and income tax revenue [and sometimes property tax] that helps make schools and roads and fire trucks possible.

That's not to say either Amazon or Walmart is moral. It's more that because Walmart has a greater dependency on the commons around me and I believe its interests and mine are less orthogonal.

Sure, Walmart provides jobs in your community... But they cost state and federal taxpayers in a significant way.

Walmart's business model depends on state and federal government assistance to their low-paid workers:


It is true that Walmart brings in local revenues through sales and property taxes, however this is more than offset by the assistance state and federal governments have to provide to low-wage Walmart workers:


Any unskilled job is going to have a low enough pay rate that many of the employees will qualify for public assistance. This goes for Walmart, Target, and the mom and pop shops Walmart replaced. If Walmart went out of business tomorrow, these people would still be on public assistance. That's today's economy.

This article[1] though on a biased (in that they have a point of view) site, has links to some state data, so it's convenient to link to it. It's also specific to medicaid benefits.

> Of the 50 companies with the most employees on Medicaid in Massachusetts, almost half are retail and restaurant chains. The list includes CVS, Home Depot, May Department Stores, Sears, Kohl’s, Walgreen, Lowe’s, and Best Buy.

> Similar data was recently released by Wisconsin, Missouri, and New Jersey. Topping all three states’ lists are many of the same retailers, including Walmart, Target, Dollar General, and Home Depot, as well as restaurant chains such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

It doesn't seem exactly fair to do it based on total number of employees though. What about percentage of employees? Looking at the Missouri (state health care) data, Walmart is at about double the rate as Target, it has:

    Walmart work force: 43,281  
    Walmart MHN Enrolled employees (E): 2403  
    Walmart MHN Enrolled family members (N): 3633  
    Walmart total employees (E+N): 6036  
    Walmart Percentage of Missouri Workforce Enrolled(E) or Responsible for Enrollee (N) 13.95%

    Target work force: 7,580
    Target MHN Enrolled employees (E): 282
    Target MHN Enrolled family members (N): 317
    Target total employees (E+N): 599
    Target Percentage of Missouri Workforce Enrolled(E) or Responsible for Enrollee (N) 7.9%
Actually the rest of the data[2] is interesting (kind of old; 2011), and too much to summarize here, but there are a lot of worse companies than both of those, percentage-wise. For example, Dollar General is at 42.24%.

[1] https://ilsr.org/chains-walmart-foods-free-ride-taxpayers-ex... [2] https://dss.mo.gov/mhd/general/pdf/2011-employer-match-repor...

Walmart recently (this year) changed their pay structure so that nobody will make less than $11/hour, which is good for jobs that don't even require high school or the ability to speak English, so data from 2011 is outdated.

But being paid $11/hour still means that at the workers with dependent children will still be on Medicai and other public programs.

Very few unskilled jobs pay enough that a single mom is not going to qualify for benefits, so these stats probably reflect more than anything who the company hires or retains. If they hire lots of single moms, they will be lots of employees collecting benefits. If they hire more men, older people or younger people, they will not.

It would be interesting to break out average age of employee as well. In my experience, Target trends towards younger employees.

> Any unskilled job...

That's a moving target with software in the economic picture now.

We know about the "That isn't AI" effect. Each incremental advance coming out of AI research or just software in general is countered with a problem domain the advance doesn't address, and the advance is dismissed as not really ground-breaking. This effect is commonly seen in action with traditional games (checkers, chess, Go, etc.), but I see it with all sorts of automation.

I posit there is a converse rule: every incremental gain (which admittedly are infinitesimal steps towards AGI/strong AI) has the potential to move the goalposts of what constitutes an "unskilled job".

We often fail to recognize this because the incrementalism's effect upon jobs is not nearly as dramatic as what we today imagine the transition from horses to cars to be (when in fact it was quite incremental back then as well). There aren't as many checkout cashiers as before due to software- and infrastructure-enhanced advances (bar codes and their scanners, supply chain management, etc.*), but because checkout cashiers aren't completely gone yet we don't viscerally perceive the economic effects. What used to be a skilled job is now classified as unskilled however, so the economic impact is huge.

I contend we don't need AGI for massive automation-originated social disruption. If someone produces software that roughly approximates the reasoning abilities and kinesthesia of a 7-11th grader, then that is the majority of people in the developed world, not to speak of the developing world. That developmental range is roughly equivalent to what the mainstream media content targets in the developed world. We'll see continuous, smaller disruptions far before that point, though it is an open research question if we will get there in the near future. For example, we still don't have a general software solution to a task as "simple" as folding clothes, sheets and towels grabbed at random from a dryer.

I never understood this meme. How would the state save money if those people sat at home instead of working at Walmart? How is it Walmart's fault that the minimum wage is so low and the regulations are written in such a way as to incentivize part-time labour over full-time labour?

Hate the game, not the player.

Walmart gets a lot of heat but they actually do lobby for a higher minimum wage (which they believe will hurt their less-efficient competitors more than it does Walmart). And really, most retail and food-service companies are no better.

With that said, it's certainly possible to run a retail store without totally screwing your employees. Costco is extremely profitable despite providing very high wages and good benefits, far better than Walmart's warehouse-club subsidiary Sams Club. At the end of the day Walmart is still making a choice to screw over their employees just because they can get away with it, regardless of if everyone else is doing it. Tu quoque is not a good defense.

Costco is primarily B2B. This allows it to have membership fees and to combine bulk purchase with retail.

Here's the page for "pork": http://www.costco.com/pork.html The least expensive item [in my browser] is ten pounds of bacon $6.50 per pound. A cash flow that allows allocating $19 to toilet paper is necessary to shop at Costco: http://www.costco.com/toilet-paper.html

The $100 shopping cart doesn't contain the diversity to cover fairly basic human needs, even ignoring the membership fee [I see $55 today].

Walmart are in profit aren't they? They don't need to lobby for a wage increase they can just give their employees one (as you intimated).

If they're lobbying for higher minimum wage when they don't already pay a higher wage themselves then it seems their motives are malicious. It's not something that reflects well on them anyhow.

Grocery stores are some of the lowest margin businesses in the US (on the order of 3%). Payroll is a pretty large expense, so it's not as if Walmart can just willy-nilly double salaries because the Waltons are extremely wealthy. If you were to wave a magic wand and redistribute the Waltons' gains to US employees, it would be something like $2000/year.

I don't disagree. I think Walmart expresses the structure of health care access in the United States. I don't think the contractor model as implemented in the consumer facing gig economy or more traditionally in Amazon's warehouses has noticeably better economic outcomes for workers.

My impression is that when journalists muckrake contract labor, healthcare access gets lumped in with employment instability and attempts at assigning responsibility to the big brand for the effects of outsourcing to the lowest bidder.

Agreed. The gig/contractor model is certainly no better for workers than Walmart, and is perhaps worse.

The anti-Walmart meme makes it easy to assign responsibility to Walmart while still assuming the status quo regarding access to the health care system and the underlying economics.

Everyone in your town was unemployed, had irregular shifts, and didn't have a functional fire station before Walmart came to town?

I think you're missing the nuance between "Walmart should leave," and "Walmart shouldn't have come."

Of course, we can only act on the future, so maybe the nuance is meaningless at this point.

No. That was not the case.

Walmart has a notoriously bad rap, but they are pretty progressive for a big evil company. Amazon seems to get a bit more slack even though I have read that working there is a horrible experience.

To second this, I've had three or four conversations with Amazon warehouse employees and all told me it was a terrible experience. One worked at a major distribution point in Pennsylvania and explained that in addition to being compelled to essentially run back and forth constantly to pick items, they refused to provide air conditioning in the middle of summer.

Which is kind of dumb. I'm guessing someone in Amazon ran the numbers and found that worker health, happiness, and heat exhaustion is still cheaper than air conditioning.

AC is a bit of an high expectation for such large warehouses.

But when working at static points(as with the kiva robots), there's no reason why they won't provide fans, at least.

The first place I encountered a working chip reader, even.

Also Instacart and Google Express and Peapod.

My issues with Instacart is that not every shopper knows how to shop for produce.

I order avocados from instacart: They're all black on the inside when I cut into them.

I order specialty chips or cheeses? They're marked as "Item out of stock," but when I run to the same grocery store that they shopped at after my delivery it's right there in plain sight to me.

I order deli meat from Instacart? They ignore my comments about how I would like it to be sliced and deliver it to me shredded.

Outside of that? I love instacart -- as long as they're packaged goods (pick and ship) and they're not hot deli items or cold/frozen items (I've had drivers put yogurt in the same bag as a lot of frozen veggies and peas and stuff that shouldn't have been frozen was frozen.)

When I shop for groceries about half of my bill is produce. I also need groceries every week to keep produce in the house.

I don't trust anyone to pick out produce. So I have to go buy it. So it's not worth it to me to buy groceries online because I would only be buying non-produce.

I do however buy some things on Amazon that otherwise we might buy in the grocery store, like diapers.

I number of years back, I was on crutches with a broken foot and tried out Peapod for grocery delivery. It was "OK" but they were often out of things and items like produce were definitely hit or miss. At the time it was useful because I could drive and make my way through the store on crutches but couldn't easily do a full grocery shopping. Once I was back on my feet I stopped using them because, if I was going to the store anyway, having some of my groceries delivered wasn't much of a win.

(I'm willing to believe that Instacart + Whole Foods, for example, is a better overall experience--for a premium. But it's not available where I live.)

Yes. This is somewhat newsworthy as it's another example of Uber/Lyft's interest in becoming more broadly-based logistics companies. However, grocery delivery already exists. It's just remained something of a niche.

My speculation is that the reason is some combination of "I want to look at the produce," "I don't want to pay $10 for delivery," "I'm just not organized enough to sit down at my computer and input my order," and "I've always just gone to the grocery store."

Personally, I find Walmart to be a mediocre grocery store that I only go to because it's convenient. Given the other options that already exist for me, I would have pretty much zero interest in getting delivery from Walmart. I'd be using Peapod if I wanted it.

Core issue long-term is that if Amazon doesn't own the "last mile" it will be at the mercy of those that do; clearly, Jeff knows this, though unclear how he's going to address this long-term.

Once again I wonder about the notion of an "independent contractor" class of worker, one where they save up and buy the standard "util-i-car" a vehicle which has a driving/motive unit, and attachable rear units, delivery pod, cargo pod, livery (tax) pod, transport (ambulance) pod, Etc. Along with a supply of lenders/repairs/resellers who lend you the money for your first utili-car, trade you used car or pod, repair your car/pod, sell new pods etc.

I've used Safeway's home delivery service before. Wal-mart's as well. The whole, get your groceries delivered, it isn't such a great experience to be honest.

First of all, pretty much every single time, I was missing items!

Secondly, navigating the online store is a horrible experience. Finding things, thinking of what you need. The whole thing stinks.

The experience of walking down an isle and picking out what you need, is strangely more efficient.

This could be huge if they can keep the prices near Walmart levels. This could be a way to get around the negative stigma of shopping at Walmart amongst the hipster / bourgeois / middle class. If they pull this off it will put real pressure on the other grocery providers. On the downside, grocery delivery services have been tried many times in the past 15 years.

Eh. I can't say I've done formal comparison shopping but Walmart groceries don't strike me as being systematically a lot cheaper than other grocery chains on an, ahem, apples to apples basis. Personally, given other options, I'm not sure why I would use Walmart for grocery delivery given that I'd be paying for delivery in some form and their selection and, often, quality are inferior to other stores.

Have a look at Walmart SavingsCatcher. As you walk out of the store, you snap a QR code on your receipt. They check every other store in your area for the stuff you bought and refund the difference on a gift card if they weren't the cheapest.

I've used it a few times with grocery delivery.

It seems like Uber and Lyft are currently doing deals like this as big special one-offs. At what point do real world services like this become plug and play via APIs?

When we remove the pesky wetware

Can't you see a world where Lyft or Uber offers themselves as a platform?

"You put in the weight and dimensions of the object to be transported, and we'll give you pricing and an ETA for pickup and delivery"

People could then choose to do the delivery similar to how they choose to pick people up. Perhaps there's a premium (similar to surge pricing?) based on size.

There already are APIs for booking rides and package delivery through Uber. See https://developer.uber.com/

(Disclosure: I work on the Uber API team.)

I can't say I'd want my family's food traveling in a car used to haul the public around when it's not delivering food.

Why not?

Would be interesting to know how and who shoulders the liability here?

Walmart has all the reputation risk.

Which whatever anyone wants to say about Walmart's reputation, it's pointless to offer the service if they let it suck.

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