Which U.S. retailer has made the most drone deliveries? Hint: it’s NOT Amazon.
Despite the big announcement that Amazon founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos made in 2013 about Amzaon drones delivering products to your doorstep in what he promised would be four or five years from then (so 2017 or 2018), Amazon drone deliveries are still a long way out.
For most Americans, drone deliveries from any retailer are a long way out. But there’s one major U.S. retailer in particular that’s a lot closer than all the rest. That’s Walmart.
Heading into 2023, Walmart now operates in 36 drone delivery hubs across seven states. The company said it completed more than 6,000 successful, actual drone deliveries in 2022.
But unlike Amazon, Walmart doesn’t manage the drone deliveries itself. Instead, it partners with other established drone delivery companies to actually execute the deliveries. Walmart’s involvement is primarily offering up the goods to be delivered, the space to launch from and other less-tangible efforts like marketing and, well, funding. Walmart’s U.S. deliveries are currently being done by three companies: DroneUp, Flytrex and Zipline.
DroneUp took a big leap in December 2022 when it officially kicked off its drone delivery operations with Walmart in six of the seven states that Walmart lays claim to drone delivery operations in. Those six states are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas Utah and Virginia.
The seventh state that Walmart operates in is North Carolina, where it works with Israeli startup Flytrex. Separately, Walmart has partnered with California-based Zipline to test drone deliveries with customers in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
So what kind of stuff is Walmart actually delivering? The retail giant shared its five most-delivered items, which are:
- Great Value Cookies and Cream Ice Cream
- Lemons (2 lb bag)
- Rotisserie Chicken
- Red Bull
- Bounty Paper Towels
With Walmart drone deliveries, the aircraft takeoff and land on the proper of actual brick-and-mortar stores. That could be an efficient model, as new warehouses don’t need to be built.
And Walmart products lend themselves well to drone deliveries. The weight limit per order is 10 lbs — so even a hefty bag of lemons fits. The company said 85% of all items sold in a Walmart Neighborhood Market meet the weight and volume requirements to be delivered by drone. That rules out multi-gallon water jugs, but incorporates pretty much all non-bulk foods you’d like to eat, as well as medications and toiletries.
What’s more is that Walmart already has the “warehouses” built out. There are 4,700 Walmart stores collectively located within 90% of all U.S. residents. That puts Walmart in a unique position to more efficiently scale its drone deliveries. It also means deliveries are fast, capable of being made within 30 minutes of the order being placed.
But while Walmart dominates, other big players are showing signs of growth. Amazon barely squeezed actual drone deliveries onto its checklist of completed items for 2022. In December 2022, Amazon announced that it had made its first deliveries from its new sites in Texas and California. Amazon Prime Air Vice President framed the moves as “careful first steps.”
Another huge player in U.S. drone delivery is not officially a U.S. retailer, so it wasn’t in the mix in this ranking of U.S. retailers with the most drone deliveries. That’s Google-sibling company Wing, which conducts drone deliveries for other retailers. Wing is largely considered the second-largest drone delivery company in the world, behind Zipline. It partners with other companies such as DoorDash.
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