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