retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Walmart reportedly has applied for a patent on a “floating warehouse,” described in a Bloomberg story as a “blimp-style machine (that) would fly at heights between 500 feet and 1,000 feet, contain multiple launching bays, and be operated autonomously or by a remote human pilot,” with the ability to deliver products to shoppers’ homes.

The patent application is said to be similar to one granted to Amazon in 2016, and reflects these two competitors’ desire - or need - to “lower the costs of fulfilling online orders, particularly the so-called ‘last mile’ to a customer’s house, which is usually handled by a local or national logistics company.” The Walmart application is said to be likely to be approved, if only because it goes into greater specificity than the Amazon application.

CNBC quotes that Walmart application as saying: "In a modern retail environment, there is a need to improve the customer service and/or convenience for the customer. One aspect of customer service is the availability of products. The availability of products is dependent in part on the distribution of products. There are numerous ways to distribute and deliver products. Getting the product to a delivery location, however, can cause undesirable delays, can add cost and reduce revenue.”

It also, Bloomberg writes, “the latest volley in a clash between Wal-Mart and Amazon to grab shoppers’ attention, loyalty and dollars. In the process, the companies are increasingly treading on the other’s turf: Amazon is opening physical stores and agreed to pay $13.7 billion for upscale grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has beefed up its e-commerce business through acquisitions and offers like free two-day shipping.”
KC's View:
I wonder of the ghost of Sam Walton is looking around and saying, “I’m sorry. You invested in what?”

Patenting a floating warehouse seems like such an Amazon thing to do that it seemed funny to read this story over the weekend. But I guess it is a symbol of how many different battlefields there are in this titanic struggle between Walmart and Amazon.

I would expect that there will be a pitched battle between these two companies for people, ideas, and every possible competitive advantage. It would be foolish - maybe even malpractice - for retailers not realize this and factor it into their competitive strategies. It doesn’t mean they have to mimic Walmart or Amazon, but it does mean that they have to figure out how to be a compelling alternative.

They can’t settle for being in the middle. Because it is the middle of the road where you find roadkill.