Curbside, Doorstep, or Refrigerator: Where Does the Last Mile End?

Home delivery is widely regarded as the thorniest part of the retail supply chain. For years, grocers have struggled, innovated, and competed to master this part of fulfillment – with varying results, and often creating more questions than answers. Are driverless vehicles the way of the future? How to package temperature-sensitive items? What about porch theft?

Many of these questions hinge on the basic assumption that the package's final destination is the customer's front stoop. But now even that is up for debate. 

Last month (June 2019), Walmart announced its new InHome service, in which a store employee will actually enter the customer's house and put their order straight in the fridge. The company has assured the public that its employees will undergo extensive training before entering homes, and they'll wear real-time cameras so the customer can see what they're doing. InHome is set to begin this fall in three U.S. cities: Pittsburg, PA; Kansas City, MO; and Vero Beach, FL, reaching over one million Walmart customers.

The in-home service won't stop there – it will cover returning items, too. Walmart says that later in 2019, customers will be able to return items they bought online simply by leaving them on their counter. An InHome employee will come in and whisk them away while the homeowner is at work. 

The concept of in-home delivery isn't completely new. Since 2017, Amazon has been tweaking and expanding its Amazon Key service, a "smart system" that allows workers to deliver packages directly into Prime members' home or car. The service requires purchasing certain gadgets (available, of course, on Amazon) such as a smart lock and a camera. It's currently in use in over fifty U.S. cities.

As one might expect, many people are dubious about letting corporate employees into their homes, with or without a camera. After Amazon's original launch, it didn't take long for bloggers and journalists to publicize their resistance to the idea. In the early days of Amazon Key, a survey from InsuranceQuotes found that 70% of shoppers were uncomfortable with in-home delivery, citing fear of theft and compromised privacy. (Those concerns may have triggered Amazon's continued attempts to revise the service, including delivery inside your car and in your garage.)

Top In-Home Delivery Concerns by Gender

Top In-Home Delivery Concerns by Gender

Of course, despite the resistance, there are obvious advantages to having your package delivered somewhere safe and temperature-controlled. In-home delivery would lessen the risk of theft, and it would satisfy the need for climate-regulated packaging, which is a costly investment. 

So what does the future hold? Will consumers warm to the idea of letting employees enter their homes? Will "farm-to-fridge" become the new norm?

The fact is, in-home delivery services are still too new for there to be any hard data about customers' response. Consumers have adapted to radical changes in retail in the past decade, sometimes after showing strong initial resistance – such as their willingness to share personal data.

Time will tell whether in-home delivery fades away or becomes the standard. In the meantime, small and mid-sized grocers without the capital or infrastructure (or desire) to offer such services can still take action to compete with the giants of grocery. Here are three ways your business can grow your market share, with or without a key to your customers' homes:

  • Offer a wide array of personalized digital services. If you haven't yet dipped your toe into the multifaceted world of eGrocery, you'll be surprised by the myriad opportunities it offers. Grocery eCommerce doesn't just mean selling your goods online; it means new ways of using data intelligence to tailor your marketing to consumers' personal preferences; and providing much-needed services such as Meal Planning, which help shoppers save money, time, and hassle. The world of eGrocery is growing everyday, and your business can the one to offer it to customers in your area.

  • Stay current on trends. Because of the ever-growing capabilities of eGrocery, it's crucial that your business understands the latest technology and customer behaviors – and that you pivot your strategy accordingly. By staying up-to-date on emerging technologies, shopper favorites, and experts' predictions for the future, you put yourself in the best possible position to compete. (For an easy way to do this, subscribe to our blog below.)

  • Make the move to omnichannel – wisely. If and when you decide to take the leap to digital, make sure you do it strategically. There are two primary ways to do this. One, go mobile-first. Make sure your omnichannel platform is mobile device friendly first, not as an afterthought. This will ensure that your online presence is clean, functional, and user-friendly across all devices – which is essential to attracting and keeping customers. Second, partner with the right provider. It may be tempting to go with the first company you speak to (especially if they have a good sales pitch), but keep in mind that not all service providers are created equal. Many offer a rigid, cookie-cutter approach, when what you need is a scalable, customized service. (For more on choosing the right eCommerce partner, click here.)

Where does your last mile end? It depends on your business, your capabilities, and your customers. If this past spring has been any indication, the coming years will be full of emerging trends and technologies, especially in the area of grocery fulfillment. Some services will stick; many will fall by the wayside. What matters is your commitment to delivering the best possible service to your shoppers both in-store and online. To see how locai can help you do that, schedule a consultation with us here.