Sep 12, 2023 - Technology

Groceries by drone? Here's what it's like

Illustration of a wireframe futuristic landscape with a drone flying above, and abstract shapes.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

I've seen the future of delivery. It's a little too easy, and a little too fun.

  • I recently arranged a firsthand demo to order groceries from Walmart by drone, since I live outside of the four current Northwest Arkansas delivery zones (in Bentonville, Farmington, Pea Ridge and Rogers).

Why it matters: NWA is a vital test market as drone companies work to earn regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for larger flight areas and fewer restrictions — all while proving to the world's largest retailer that they can literally deliver the goods.

State of play: Walmart says it's made more than 10,000 drone deliveries in the past two years.

  • The retailer is testing the service at 36 stores (38 soon) in seven states with four drone companies, including DroneUp and others.
  • The most requested items: Oreos, energy drinks and bananas, per a Walmart spokesperson.

Zoom in: I met DroneUp and Walmart reps at the Ledger building in downtown Bentonville — temporary site of the Walmart Museum Heritage Lab, a juxtaposition not too ironic.

  • Using DroneUp's dedicated website on a phone, I entered the building's address and followed the prompts. The process was simple and quick.
  • Marketside heat & eat four-cheese ravioli, Lay's salt & vinegar chips and a Cherry Coke were $9.50. Add a pack of Klondike ice cream bars and the delivery charge ($4, unless you have a promo code), and you can have a small party, all by drone, for about $20.

The caveat: Substitutions.

  • After a confirmation text, I received a phone call: The store was out of the entree — would I like Kitchen Table cheese ravioli primavera for another dollar or two? Of course.

The verdict: Even with a substitution, the order was delivered in the promised 30 minutes.

  • Like most delivery services, it was simple and intuitive.

Yes, but: The ice cream was just right for eating, but I wonder if a hotter day would have turned it into mush.

Meanwhile, a mom's POV on Zipline, another drone operator Walmart is testing: "We use it at least weekly — especially after school and on the weekend," Sarah Saragusa, a local mother of four, told What's Next writer Joann Muller.

  • "It's really convenient. You get home from work, put on your comfy clothes, and you don't want to go to Walmart just to get 1-2 things."
  • Saragusa, who lives in Pea Ridge where Zipline is testing, occasionally shares her experience on TikTok.

The bottom line: Drone delivery is a novelty there's something Christmas-morning-like about opening a box lowered from the sky.

  • I guffawed nearly a decade ago when Jeff Bezos announced Amazon's delivery-by-drone plans.
  • Now I admit, it was shortsighted.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Sarah Saragusa uses Zipline, not DroneUp.

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