'A world without errands': Kroger expands autonomous grocery delivery to Houston
Last year, Kroger partnered with Nuro and piloted the self-driving grocery delivery service in Scottsdale, Arizona, servicing one zip code.
In December 2018, Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson shared that its fleet of self-driving Toyota Prius cars had completed roughly 1,000 thousand deliveries and received "best-in-class customer satisfaction ratings.
“We’ve seen first-hand in Arizona how enthusiastic customers are about getting their Kroger groceries delivered by a Nuro self-driving vehicle,” Nuro Ferguson said.
"Our Arizona pilot program confirmed the flexibility and benefits provided by autonomous vehicles and how much customers are open to more innovative solutions," commented Yael Cosset, Kroger's chief digital officer. "It's always been our shared vision to scale this initiative to new markets, using world-changing technology to enable a new type of delivery service for our customers."
Retailers autonomous delivery race heats up
Many retailers are testing out autonomous vehicles for grocery delivery, a burgeoning tech market projected to be worth $556.7bn globally by 2026 (currently around $54.23bn), according to Allied Market Research.
Amazon entered the grocery delivery game with Amazon Scout, a small six-wheeled self-driving robot that offers free same-day, one-day, and two-day delivery for Prime members.
Walmart is also looking into the self-driving vehicle space with several tech partners including Waymo, but instead of customers placing orders to be delivered, self-driving vehicles pick up and transport customers to pick up their groceries and take them home or to another destination.
'A world without errands'
"Nuro envisions a world without errands, where everything is on-demand and can be delivered affordably. Operating a delivery service using our custom unmanned vehicles is an important first step toward that goal," Ferguson said.
After deploying its fleet of self-driving Toyota Prius cars, Nuro will introduce its custom autonomous vehicle, 'the R1', later this year. According to Ferguson, its unmanned R1 uses self-driving software and sensing hardware, redundancy (the duplication of critical components or functions) across its critical systems, and a smaller footprint than a standard car. Nuro R1 vehicles can hold up to 12 grocery bags within its two compartments.
For the initial phase of development, Nuro employs trained robot operators to monitor the self-driving vehicles and who are able to take control at any time.
Customers will be able to make orders (via Kroger.com or the Kroger mobile app) at two Houston Kroger stores seven days a week based on slot availability for a $5.95 flat delivery fee with no minimum order (by comparison, Instacart charges $3.99 for delivery for orders under $35).
Kroger's retail ambitions
Kroger's grocery ambitions are firmly in the digital, tech-driven space having made a number of investments over the past year including a partnership with Ocado to build three automated distribution centers to fulfill online orders and teaming up with Microsoft, making Microsoft Azure the retailer's main cloud platform.
Last year, the retailer reported 60% digital sales growth.
"Kroger continues to redefine the customer experience, and we're thrilled to provide our customers with a new way to have their groceries delivered," commented Marlene Stewart, Kroger's Houston division president.
"The launch is one more way we are committed to sustainably providing our customers with anything, anytime, and anywhere, the way they want it," added Cosset.
The self-driving Nuro cars delivering Kroger groceries will not be limited to Scottsdale and Houston, according to Ferguson, who has plans to expand to new markets.
"For this may be the first, but it will be followed by many more: more vehicles, more cities, and more services. Together with others in the industry, we will usher in new ways to provide transportation, and more time, to everyone," he said.