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Walmart store workers now powering Walmart.com deliveries

The world's largest retailer continues its e-commerce push with a test program that gets its store employees to make home deliveries of online orders.

Walmart employee at store

Walmart store employees can now double as e-commerce delivery people.

Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

Crowdsourced delivery is so 2016. Walmart just created something called "associate delivery."

For the past few years, a slew of tech titans and startups have been developing crowdsourced shipping services, with Amazon, Uber, Postmates, Deliv and others paying regular folks to deliver packages or food to customers' doors.

Walmart may have one-upped them. The company on Thursday said that it will tap into its over 1 million store employees (it calls them associates) in its 4,700 US stores to power a new e-commerce delivery network. The new program, which the company began testing a month ago at three stores, was revealed a day before Walmart's annual shareholder meeting at its Arkansas headquarters.

Using this new network, the company has made hundreds of deliveries for both Walmart.com and Jet.com, with shipments typically arriving the next day, faster than its promised two-day shipping window, a Walmart spokesman said.

"It just makes sense," Marc Lore, Walmart's US e-commerce head, said in a blog post Thursday. He noted that online orders are already trucked to Walmart locations for pickups by both carriers and customers. The new concept builds on that idea by getting associates to bring more of those orders right to customers' doorsteps.

The new concept, which is in testing at two New Jersey stores and one in Arkansas, is another way Walmart is trying to turn its vast network of stores into valuable parts for its growing e-commerce business. That way, it can use those legacy assets to do a better job fighting Amazon, the reigning king of e-commerce. The associate delivery idea also points to Walmart's potentially changed perceptions, with the company now looking to boost sales regardless of whether they're in stores or online, instead of simply using its online channel to support its stores.

The associate delivery idea also keeps up the unending push by tech and retail companies to get you online packages even faster, with these companies developing a bunch of new ideas, including delivery drones and drop-offs inside customers' cars. The Walmart concept provides a rare innovation that Amazon, for once, probably can't match, particularly because all those Walmart stores put the company within 10 miles of 90 percent of the US population.

Walmart will pay associates extra for making the deliveries while they drive home from work in their personal cars and trucks. The program is voluntary for associates to join, and workers can use a specialized Walmart-developed app to choose how many packages they can deliver, the size and weight limits of those packages and which days they want to make deliveries. They can also change those preferences whenever they like.

Amazon in 2015 did start a somewhat related program called Amazon Flex, which pays regular folks to make deliveries for its speedy-shipping service Prime Now in certain cities. Lore argued that this new network is more efficient than many crowdsourced services, because Walmart's delivery workers don't even have to drive over to pick up their boxes. 

In a similar effort, Walmart in April introduced a new program that lets customers opt to pick up certain online-only item in stores to receive small discounts. Walmart has also expanded its buy-online, curbside-pickup grocery program.

Additionally, Walmart has purchased a constellation of smaller online retailers, including Moosejaw, ShoeBuy and ModCloth. An early step in this online push was its $3.3 billion purchase of online seller Jet.com, which Lore co-founded after he left his job as an Amazon executive. Walmart is now planning to purchase men's clothing seller Bonobos, according to news reports.

Walmart this year also rolled out free two-day shipping for over 2 million items online. In comparison, Amazon Prime's two-day delivery inventory reaches 50 million items.

Walmart's renewed e-commerce push has already shown some early success, with US online sales jumping 63 percent in the latest quarter. Yet, because Walmart (and every other retailer) is so far behind Amazon in online sales, it will likely take years of effort to come close to Amazon's e-commerce sales. In the US last year, Amazon's online sales were $102.8 billion, while No. 2 online seller Walmart sold $24.3 billion, according to researcher Euromonitor.

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