The last mile of delivery is a complicated and very expensive part of logistics. Companies are experimenting with using smart Kiosks at big box locations or other convenient places like post offices, and of course pizza-delivery-by-drone has become a well-known pilot demonstration of speedy service. And on the lower-tech side, UPS drivers have begun employing bicycles to get into particularly dense urban areas.
Now Walmart is jumping into the last-mile space but the retail giant is using assets it already has: its employees.
"It just makes sense: We already have trucks moving orders from fulfillment centers to stores for pickup,” Marc Lore, chief executive of Walmart’s e-commerce business explains in a recent blog. “Those same trucks could be used to bring ship-to-home orders to a store close to their final destination, where a participating associate can sign up to deliver them to the customer’s house.
The company isn’t asking a favor of the employees but will pay them for their time. Overtime will be offered as necessary in this voluntary program, says Walmart spokesman Ravi Jariwala. Specific details of the program were not released.
The company points out that employees won’t have to go far since 90% of the population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart.
The company began testing the package-delivery program a month ago in three stores—two in New Jersey, one in northwest Arkansas—but did not offer details on when, or where, it would expand across the United States.
An article in the Washington Post points out that this practice raises a lot of question including risk and liability associated with the deliveries.
“The practice seems ripe for abuse if the company does not compensate workers for the full cost of their journey, the expenses related to gas, car depreciation, and potential problems like accidents, tickets or parking expenses,” Stephanie Luce, a labor professor at the City University of New York, says in the Washington Post article. “Like other ‘gig economy’ type jobs, there is a potential to benefit workers—but in reality, most of the benefits accrue to the employer, not the employee.”
While one question might be why employees would be interested in this practice, some Walmart critics say all it takes is a look at the wages of the workforce to understand. While the company made $485.9 billion in revenue, most employees are paid under $10 an hour.
“To say this is a voluntary program is like throwing a life preserver to someone drowning in a lake,” Randy Parraz, director of Making Change at Walmart, a campaign run by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told the Washington Post. “When so many workers are paid so little that they need government assistance to make ends meet, it becomes a necessity, not a choice, to do what they can to earn more.”