The service allows online shoppers to have groceries delivered into their kitchen, even when they aren't home.

A little less than two years ago, Walmart Inc. offered consumers a vision of convenience: Shoppers could come home to a refrigerator full of groceries that they ordered online without having to do anything but place the order.

Walmart pitched that vision when it announced it was testing an in-home grocery delivery service in September 2017 in Northern California’s Silicon Valley with August Home, a keyless home entry technology provider, and same-day delivery service Deliv. Now, the retail giant is ready to go live with a revamped, expanded version of that effort that relies on specifically trained, vetted Walmart associates, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon plans to announce Friday.

McMillon will announce that Walmart this fall will roll out InHome Delivery, a service that enables online shoppers to have their groceries delivered directly into their kitchen or garage fridge, even when they aren’t home. Tenured Walmart store associates will handle the deliveries when the service debuts in three cities: Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh; and Vero Beach, Florida.

Later in the year, InHome also will allow consumers to return items they ordered on Walmart’s ecommerce site or app. Shoppers can leave the item they want to return on their counter, and the associate will return it for them.

Here’s how the service works: A consumer places her order on Walmart.com or Walmart’s mobile app and selects InHome Delivery, as well as a delivery date at checkout. A Walmart associate will gather her groceries and then, at the time of delivery, use an internet-connected lock technology at the customer’s house and a proprietary, wearable camera on the associate to access the customer’s home. The technology enables the shopper to control access into her home and allows her to watch the delivery remotely. However, a consumer can only use InHome Delivery if she has an internet-connected so-called smart lock.

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While Walmart’s previous attempt to offer in-home delivery was a collaborative effort with August Home and Deliv, Walmart plans to own the InHome Delivery process “end-to-end,” a spokeswoman tells Internet Retailer.

Walmart’s service has some hurdles to overcome, including many consumers’ reluctance to allow delivery drivers to enter their homes: A 2017 Morning Consult poll found that 68% of consumers were uncomfortable with letting delivery drivers into their homes, with 15% saying they were “somewhat uncomfortable” and 53% saying they were “very uncomfortable” with it. And a 2017 Internet Retailer survey found that only 22.1% of respondents said that, if available, they would take advantage of Walmart’s in-home grocery delivery service.

The service is “disruptive,” the Walmart spokeswoman says, noting that “other disruptive services out there like home rental and furniture delivery and set-up services that before seemed hard to imagine but are now the norm.” And Walmart aims to relieve consumers’ anxieties by allowing them to monitor and watch the delivery through the wearable cameras worn by associates either in real time or via a recorded video. Walmart says the associates handling the deliveries have undergone extensive background checks and training to ensure a safe delivery.

The launch of in-home grocery delivery further escalates the “tit-for-tat” battle between Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart for “delivery supremacy,” says Charlie O’Shea, lead retail analyst at credit ranking provider Moody’s Investors Service.

However, there is still some uncertainty about the rollout. “What remains unclear for us is how much this will cost to roll out at scale,  how much demand there will ultimately be for the service and how much consumers are willing to pay for the service,” he says. “We remain concerned that companies may end up overspending in their development of various delivery options by overestimating the potential demand, though that is a ‘down-the-road’ issue.”

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Walmart is No. 3 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000.

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