For many, the refrigerator is an intimate and highly systemized appliance.
Everything that populates it — from that XL-sized tub of low-fat vanilla yogurt to the jar of hot dog relish that may or may not be two years past its prime — has a specific place. A staple of domesticity that’s both imperative and incredibly personal, a look into one’s fridge can be revealing — a glimpse not just into dietary peccadillos but health, income, romantic life and overall psyche.
This is partially why an “in-fridge” delivery service currently being piloted by Walmart in California is freaking out a whole lot of people.
Launched in collaboration with smart lock technology leader August, the new scheme targets ultra-harried consumers who are too busy to go grocery shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, too busy to be at home to intercept grocery deliveries and too busy, apparently, to put their own groceries away in the fridge.
Here are the basics:
Shoppers place grocery orders as they normally would on Walmart.com. Yet instead of setting up a delivery window, a crowdsourced driver comes around once your order is ready. Not at home? Not a problem. In lieu of leaving your delivery on your porch or in an apartment building foyer where it risks being lost or stolen, the driver will enter your home using a special one-time-only passcode generated by the August app. Once inside, they’ll unload any perishables into your refrigerator and freezer and, presumably, leave other comestibles on your kitchen countertop.
As Sloan Eddleston, vice-president of e-commerce and business operations for Walmart, effuses in a blog post: “Think about that — someone else does the shopping for you AND puts it all away.”
A hard pass from the internet
Judging from reactions of the internet since the trial scheme was announced, it would appear a fair number of people have thought about that and aren’t entirely keen on it.
(I can’t help but think of the horror movie trope where an unsuspecting grocery delivery person — almost always a teenage boy — enters a home after ringing an unanswered doorbell and inevitably stumbles across some unspeakable horror.)
Walmart is offering a grocery delivery service and they put away the groceries for you 🤔sounds like a SVU episode waiting to happen to me— Pops Flava and Drips Sauce (@FupaFairy) September 25, 2017
To be clear, the August app gives a fair amount of (remote) control to absentee delivery recipients. They’re alerted when the delivery person enters the home; another alert is sent to the app when the person exits and the door is locked again. Bluetooth-connected August Home technology can also be linked to home security cameras, enabling delivery recipients to watch the delivery take place via smartphone. This, of course, provides peace of mind to those who fret that a stranger may be tempted to stick around to catch up on daytime TV or indulge in a quick bubble bath. Hey, you never know.
It's also worth noting that the folks performing the deliveries aren't Walmart employees but highly vetted “delivery specialists” contracted by Deliv, a Menlo Park, California-based same-day delivery startup currently operating in over two dozen major cities and metro areas.
Still, many social media users have expressed unease with the idea of a stranger accessing their fridges, let alone their homes. But that’s not necessarily what doesn’t jibe with me. I don’t really care if I’m judged by the size of my mayo or my multitude of cocktail mixers.
I’m a refrigerator super-organizer — an admitted sufferer of icebox OCD — who has meticulously plotted where every single item belongs. I will notice, immediately, if a pot of mustard has moved from the top door shelf to the bottom door shelf and I will promptly move it back to where it belongs.
@Walmart's new delivery thing where the guy comes into your house when you're not home is low key freaky— Kareem Taha (@kriispykareem) September 26, 2017
It would drive me nuts if I were to return home and items were placed haphazardly throughout the fridge. I’d likely plop myself down on the kitchen floor and reorganize my fridge post-delivery, which kind of negates the whole “time-saving” aspect touted by Walmart.
I potentially could leave detailed “this is exactly where everything goes” instructions and maybe even a diagram for the delivery person. But in the end, I wouldn’t want to be that guy. Besides, drafting obnoxious instructions telling a delivery person how to put away food in my fridge would take a fair amount of time to do. I might as well just carve out time to shop for groceries in person, which I actually enjoy doing, and put everything away to my specific liking. (I’m a joy to live with, I really am.)
'Shaping the future of commerce' comes with risks
Walmart's Eddleston acknowledges that in-fridge grocery delivery may not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea:
These tests are a natural evolution of what Walmart is all about — an obsession in saving our customers not just money but also time, making our customers’ lives easier in the process. What might seem novel today could be the standard tomorrow. This may not be for everyone — and certainly not right away — but we want to offer customers the opportunity to participate in tests today and help us shape what commerce will look like in the future.
For now, Walmart’s foray into beyond-the-front-porch grocery delivery is in testing mode and involves only a “small group” of August Smart Home users in, naturally, Silicon Valley. (I’ve had some experience using August, not in my home but as an Airbnb guest, and it’s pretty handy-dandy — although it does replace key-misplacing anxiety with phone-dying anxiety.)
Would you let Walmart deliver groceries to your home, and stock your fridge and pantry, even if you're not there?— Good Morning America (@GMA) September 25, 2017
Based on how the Silicon Valley test run goes, the Arkansas-based mega-retailer — Walmart is the nation's largest grocery chain — could look into how the scheme may evolve and whether it should expand into other markets. Widespread market adaptation seems highly unlikely in this new attempt to advance in the never-ending race to keep up with Amazon, particularly after the online behemoth's $13 billion acquisition of Whole Foods.
"There are always unintended consequences that arise with these newfangled ideas," Albert Gidari, directory of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Privacy, tells the Washington Post. "It might be creepy and intrusive, but there are also a lot of security risks and liability questions down the road."
Gidari notes that those who might be the most receptive to such a service are time-pressed, tech-savvy city-dwellers who already regularly employ nannies, dog walkers, house cleaners and the like. "This is a group of people who are already used to a certain level of intrusiveness. But God help the teenager playing hooky or the family dog who’s not expecting the delivery man.”
What do you think? Would you feel comfortable having a delivery person put away your groceries while you’re away? Or is the front porch as far as they go?