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Reuters reports that Walmart is asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission "to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and checking warehouse inventories."

The story notes that this can be seen as "a sign it plans to go head-to-head with Amazon in using drones to fill and deliver online orders."

According to the story, Walmart "has for several months been conducting indoor tests of small unmanned aircraft systems – the term regulators use for drones - and is now seeking for the first time to test the machines outdoors. It plans to use drones manufactured by China's SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd."

Reuters goes on: "The move comes as Inc, Google and other companies test drones in the expectation that the FAA will soon establish rules for their widespread commercial use ... Commercial drone use is currently illegal, though companies can apply for exemptions ... The FAA will review Wal-Mart's petition to determine whether it is similar enough to earlier successful applications to be fast-tracked, or whether it would set a precedent for exemptions, requiring regulators to conduct a detailed risk analysis and seek public comment."

Amazon has said it is prepared to start delivering via drone as soon as its gets the regulatory go-ahead. Walmart says that it also is ready to move quickly once approvals are received.

Walmart, the story says, wants "to test drones for its grocery pickup service, which it has recently expanded to 23 markets with plans to add another 20 markets next year. The test flights would confirm whether a drone could deliver a package to a pick-up point in the parking lot of a store, the application says. Wal-Mart also said it wants to test home delivery in small residential neighborhoods after obtaining permission from those living in the flight path. The test would see if a drone could be deployed from a truck 'to safely deliver a package at a home and then return safely to the same,' the application says.
KC's View:
My first response to this story is this...

When is Walmart going to stop playing catch-up with Amazon?

I don't view this as being anti Walmart as much as it is a recognition that Amazon completely sets the agenda in the e-commerce world. Which is why I continue to believe that Walmart needs to leap-frog Amazon by creating a click-and-collect/delivery program that utilizes the vast majority of its stores; it needs to say that in 90 days, 75 percent of its US stores will have pick-up stations in their parking lots. It is only by doing something like this that Walmart can change the conversation.

In so many ways, it seems to me, what Walmart is trying to do is a lot more difficult than what Amazon is doing. For Amazon, every day is day one ... it approaches business with a "start with a clean slate" mentality, unencumbered by legacy issues (or, apparently, by very many concerns about what Wall Street thinks).

Walmart, on the other hand, has this behemoth structure upon which CEO Doug McMillon is trying to impose a new attitude and new priorities. That's a lot harder, because there tend to be competing constituencies, fighting it out in ways that sometimes subvert the broader strategy.

Drones may, indeed, make sense. The FAA certainly seems to get closer to authorizing their commercial use with every passing day.

But I think Walmart has to find a way to differentiate itself from Amazon, not just be a wannabe.