A challenge faced by all retailers that offer last mile delivery is how to reduce the cost of the delivery. For example, a delivery made to a customer within a two-mile radius of a store or a fulfillment center will cost a retailer between $10 to $15.

Grocery retailers that fulfill online orders incur labor costs plus the costs to deliver the groceries. On average, grocery retailers lose in excess of $20.00 on every online order they fulfill. It’s a staggering amount of money when one takes into account that online grocery constitutes 30% or more of a grocery retailers sales.

An interesting fact is that over 45% of deliveries are made to customers that live within 3 miles of the grocery store that fulfilled their order. The number is slightly higher for customers that receive a delivery from a convenience store. Does it really make sense to use a car, van or truck to make deliveries to customers living within 3 miles of a store? No. However, what’s the alternative?

The alternative is Tortoise Cart.

Founded in 2019 and headquartered in Mountain View, CA, Tortoise powers low-speed remote repositioning for light electric vehicles like delivery bots, shared scooters, and cleaning robots. Tortoise works with partners worldwide to provide the most cost-effective, zero emissions way to move anything from A to B at a low-speed. Unlike autonomous vehicles which are heavily restricted and years away from wide-scale deployment, Tortoise Cart can immediately be utilized by retailers.

Tortoise Cart is also an ideal solution for restaurants or dark kitchens to deliver food. Tortoise Cart is much larger than other robot delivery vehicles, allowing for multiple orders to be pooled on the same cart for delivery. The cart is easily navigated to travel the fastest and most cost-effective route to deliver each order. McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, and other restaurants continue to research solutions for delivery. Tortoise Cart is an ideal option. (Tortoise prefers to focus on online grocery delivery for its cart but the carts can be used to deliver food).

Each robot is about the size of a shopping cart and is remotely piloted, ensuring a human is always at the wheel. (Remotely piloted means that an operations tech sitting in Mexico drives and navigates the cart using a camera with a 360 degree view. This makes it faster, safer and easier to drive the carts while following all traffic laws). The carts operate on sidewalks and drive at an average speed of around 3 to 7 mph, allowing them to safely navigate around people, cars, pets, and other obstacles. The cart can carry over 100 pounds of goods (groceries, food, other products) in sealed containers, which are remotely opened by the cart operator when it arrives at its destination.

Tortoise provides retailers a contactless, zero-emission, and affordable home delivery option, mitigating sustainability and congestion challenges. The cart is 100% electric, removing the need for a gas-guzzling delivery vehicle and minimizing the traffic impact of e-commerce.

Tortoise Cart has produced its first generation cart. Future models of the cart will have increased features and increased speeds giving retailers greater flexibility to customize options for the carts they leverage.

The real value of the Tortoise Cart is that it significantly reduces the cost of each delivery. On average, utilizing the carts for deliveries within a 3-mile radius of a store will reduce the cost of the delivery between $6.00 to $11.00; a remarkable savings. In addition, since retailers aren’t limited by the number of carts that they utilize, Tortoise Carts can theoretically become the primary vehicle for the majority of customer deliveries.

Companies like DoorDash, Uber, Instacart, and Shipt, that fulfill and deliver online grocery orders for their retail customers, can leverage Tortoise Cart to increase delivery options and speed to customers while reducing costs for the grocery retailers they serve. For example, the carts can make deliveries from micro-fulfillment centers.

I believe the ‘next big thing’ in the grocery industry will be the growth of Rapid Grocery Delivery (RGD). Several companies in Europe have launched RGD. The model consists of offering consumers between 1,500 and 4,000 items that are fulfilled out of manually operated dark stores. Deliveries are made by couriers riding bicycles and motor scooters. Deliveries are made in 15 minutes or less.

I recommend that Instacart immediately evaluate the model and identify how they can launch RGD for their grocery retail customers. Instead of relying on bicycles and motor scooters, I recommend that Instacart use trikes for large orders, and use Tortoise Carts for deliveries and also as mobile inventory stations. Instacart can become the first fulfillment company to introduce the use of Tortoise Carts on a large scale.

Based on my research and experience working globally with Amazon, Kroger and other retailers, I believe the Tortoise Cart is a must-have for grocery and convenience store retailers. I compared the Tortoise Cart to the delivery robots offered by Starship and other companies, and I rank the Tortoise Cart at the top of the list for the following reasons:

  • Remote controlled cart that can travel on sidewalks or on the sides of roads
  • Large carrying capacity (100 pounds+); the average delivery robot can barely hold 20 pounds
  • Teleoperation reduces risk & removes the need for upfront mapping work; mapping work can take weeks and is very expensive
  • Lowest total operating cost in the industry
  • Extremely fast and easy to install and use
  • Average delivery cost of $4.00 per order; a savings of 50% to 75% over current last mile delivery methods that use cars and human drivers

Tortoise Cart

I especially like the fact that the carts can be branded with a retailer’s or restaurants name and colors. It’s one thing to watch a slow, black and white robot barely moving down a sidewalk make a delivery. Watching a cart branded as HEB, Albertsons, Kroger, Walmart, Target, Giant Eagle, 7-Eleven, Casey’s, CVS, etc., rapidly moving down a sidewalk carrying a large amount of orders, is something entirely different.

Tortoise Cart is a global option for retailers, especially retailers located in Europe, China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brazil, Colombia and India. (Note to Walmart: I suggest you explore leveraging Tortoise Cart to make deliveries for FlipKart in India, as well as make deliveries from your stores in the U.S. and other countries).

Like micro-fulfillment technology, something I strongly encourage retailers to adopt, I also strongly encourage retailers to embrace Tortoise Cart. Maintaining the status quo as it relates to expensive last mile delivery is a mistake. Reducing costs and becoming profitable requires a new way of thinking, a better strategy and better tools.

Tortoise Cart has rewritten the rules on last mile delivery. It’s time for retailers to become rule breakers.