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Drone Wars: Walmart Has Amazon In Its Sights

Petitions FCC For Flight Testing

Walmart’s efforts to catch up with Amazon have extended to drones.

The world’s largest retailer by sales volume, if not market cap, is asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to OK tests of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at a distribution facility and in residential neighborhoods.

In the former scenario, the drones would be used to take inventory of trailers and other items in a warehouse parking lot; in the latter, Walmart would attempt to use the remote-controlled aircraft to deliver a package from a truck to a home and return safely. That trial would require permission from residents living along the flight path.

The discounter, which has been testing drones indoors for several months, also wants to employ them for its curbside grocery pickup program, Reuters reported.

The FAA application comes nearly two years after Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos famously revealed plans to use delivery drones on a broadcast of CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Amazon has said its UAV program is ready to take flight, and is just awaiting FAA approval of commercial drone use, which is expected within the next 12 months.

Apparently shoppers are ready. According to a study by Walker Sands, nearly 80 percent of consumers would be more likely to shop with a retailer that offers drone delivery to their doorstep within an hour, and 77 percent would be willing to pay for the privilege.

What’s more, the majority (88 percent) of respondents said they would trust drones with delivery for at least one kind of product, with the most popular items being books (74 percent), clothing and apparel (73 percent) and pet items (54 percent).

Meanwhile, Walmart’s billion-dollar catch-up efforts in e-commerce and fulfillment, and the expected hit to its earnings, rattled investors this month, with the company losing more than $20 billion in market cap, or 10 percent of its value, in the resulting sell-off.