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Walmart Inc. will pilot a grocery delivery service in Bentonville that uses an internet-connected box to keep items cold or frozen if the customer isn't home to receive them.

Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product for Walmart U.S., said in a news release Tuesday that the retailer is working with HomeValet to try out the startup's Smart Boxes.

HomeValet's technology powers the temperature-controlled, automated boxes. With three temperature zones, the boxes can safely store frozen, fresh and pantry items, Ward said.

"This gives customers the ability to receive secure, contactless deliveries with the peace of mind [of] knowing their grocery items will stay fresh," Ward said.

Customers must buy their own Smart Box, which looks like an oversized cooler, and place it outside their homes. The boxes come equipped with ultraviolet light known to kill germs, according to the company's website.

Virginia-based HomeValet is manufacturing the boxes and taking orders, according to its website, though the price of the boxes was not immediately available. Users can track and monitor all deliveries and unlock their Smart Box through HomeValet's app.

Walmart's partnership with HomeValet is one of many last-mile delivery options the Bentonville-based retailer is testing, Ward said. A Walmart spokeswoman said these include Walmart's InHome delivery service, in which groceries are delivered directly into customers' refrigerators inside their home or garage; left on their doorstep; or placed inside their garage.

She said InHome delivery is still operating in each of the cities where the test started: Pittsburgh; Kansas City, Mo.; and Vero Beach and West Palm Beach, Fla.

The HomeValet pilot program will start this spring, the spokeswoman said. Right now, she said, Walmart is reaching out to current delivery customers in Bentonville to see if they're interested in taking part in the project.

And like all of Walmart's pilot programs, its test of HomeValet will be used to gather feedback from customers before any decision is made to expand the service, the spokeswoman said.

Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, said that on the surface, HomeValet's boxes seem relevant during the covid-19 pandemic when cleanliness and touchless delivery are priorities for many customers.

"However, the technology could be even more important post-covid-19 as Walmart customers potentially return to work," she said.

The boxes would most likely appeal to Walmart's higher-income customers since the customers have to buy the units, Spieckerman said.

"HomeValet is yet another third-party solution provider that should be able to work with multiple retailers," Spieckerman said. "Having Walmart as the beta-tester is certainly a terrific start for the company."

Ward said HomeValet's Smart Boxes use Internet of Things technology. Internet of Things refers to electronic devices, other than computers and servers, that are controlled or accessed via network connections such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, according to Investopedia.com.

Examples of Internet of Things devices include "smart" appliances like refrigerators and thermostats; home security systems; bicycles; smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home; and wearable devices such as fitness trackers.

Amazon.com is the largest Internet of Things developer in the U.S. by annual revenue, according to digital marketing agency Thomas.

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