Few things are more challenging for retailers than last mile delivery of products to a customers home. Last mile delivery is expensive and consumers dislike the fact that groceries and other items delivered to the home must be placed on a porch or in front of a door until the customer comes home to take the products inside.
As Amazon expands its retail empire, it puts pressure in its competitors to come up with new and more innovative programs for meeting customer demand. Of all the programs I’ve evaluated, none are as interesting and leading edge as the program I uncovered being tested by Walmart – home delivery using dogs.
The program is the brainchild of Marc Lore, President and Chief Executive Officer of Walmart eCommerce. Lore came up with the idea for having dogs make deliveries when consumers rejected another program he championed – having Walmart delivery drivers place groceries direct into a customer’s refrigerator.
Although the idea made sense to Lore and other Walmart executives, consumers rejected the idea because they feared having strangers inside their homes. After careful thought, Lore realized that customers didn’t disagree with the value of having groceries delivered to their fridge, they objected to having a person make the delivery.
During multiple brainstorming sessions at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, AR, a Walmart associate jokingly commented that “maybe we should use dogs to make the deliveries” and the idea was born. According to Lore, “Consumers might be afraid of having a stranger in their house, but I was convinced consumers wouldn’t object to having a dog deliver groceries through a dog door or placing groceries and other products near a door.”
Taking the idea from concept to reality has proved to be more difficult than Lore and his team imagined.
To begin with, not all breeds of dogs are capable of carrying a specially designed harness/backpack loaded with up to the 30 pounds of groceries. Pugs, French Bulldogs, Poodles and other smaller breeds were quickly eliminated from consideration. Discussions with the American Kennel Association resulted in the following breeds being identified as the most capable of meeting Walmart’s needs:
- Cane Corso
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
The other challenge encountered was convincing Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon, that using dogs to make deliveries was achievable. According to McMillon, “We encourage our executives and associates to come up with ideas for how we can best serve our customers. Using dogs, however, appeared to be taking advantage of the privilege.”
McMillon didn’t become fully convinced of the programs value until he was able to interact with the trainers and dogs selected for the initial class launched in November 2019. McMillon was given the honor to choose a name for a Rottweiler puppy that will attend training in March 2020. McMillon chose to name the puppy ‘Drago Bludvist’ after a character from one of his favorite movies How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Trainers and Walmart personnel that run the training academy would not speak on the record. However, I was able to gather information related to how the program is expected to work. According to sources I spoke with, specially fitted vans will pick up groceries and other items from Walmart stores. To maximize capacity, dogs are placed in seats using a Rocketeer Pack that easily connects to the same BABYLTRL harness the dogs wear while making deliveries; in essence, the harnesses work as a seat belt as seen below:
Although the program is focused on groceries, Lore believes that small dogs can be utilized for delivery of packages that weigh between one to five pounds. According to Lore, “Small dogs will eventually make more deliveries than the larger breeds used for grocery delivery.”
I appreciate the pressure Lore and McMillon are under when competing against a company like Amazon. However, are dogs delivering groceries and packages the answer? I’m not convinced. I believe micro-fulfillment centers, drones and improving last mile delivery density are better strategies than utilizing dogs for deliveries. I asked Walmart to provide financial information regarding the costs of feeding and caring for the delivery dogs but Walmart declined.
As they say, truth is stranger than fiction and parody is often invisible at first glance. Walmart has tried other programs only to watch them fail. Will this program succeed? Marc Lore is convinced that it will. By the end of 2020, we will know if Lore was right.