Wal-Mart Wants to Beat Amazon by Adding Drive-Thru Shopping Option

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Photo by Brave New Films via Flickr CC

Wal-Mart teeter-totters on our green radar, hitting both high and low notes for green. But this latest idea comes right out of left field. In order to beat out Amazon, the giant of American consumerism has dreamed up allowing customers to pick up online orders via drive-thru at store locations. It's faster than waiting for online orders to be delivered. But is it doomed for failure like Blockbuster's plan for competing with Netflix? And more importantly, for a store so intense about greening up the packaging and products on its shelves, is this a very eco-friendly idea?According to the Wall Street Journal, it's Wal-Mart's brilliant idea to edge in on our car-oriented and gimme-now culture in order to better compete with an online store that delivers right to one's door...but days later. Instead, customers can shop online, select one of more than 1.5 million products - thousands of which are not available in stores - have it shipped to a local Wal-Mart (instead of their own door) and then drive to go pick it up from a drive-thru window, never needing to actually exit their vehicle.

"There was a time when the online and offline businesses were viewed as being different," said Walmart.com Chief Executive Raul Vazquez. "Now we are realizing that we actually have a physical advantage thanks to our thousands of stores, and we can use it to become No. 1 online." Heading into Christmas, the company said 40% of its online orders are being delivered through stores.

The advantages are that you don't have to find a parking spot or deal with crowds. But we want to know the difference in emissions from having a FedEx or UPS delivery truck head to your door, versus a shippment going to Wal-Mart and you driving to go get it - likely also idling in a drive-thru line. Is that any greener than starting, shutting off, and starting your car again as you arrive and depart from the Wal-Mart parking lot?

As the article states, Wal-Mart is hoping that the move piggy-backs on its supply-chain deliveries, which means possibly fewer trucks on the road; yet they also are hoping people won't actually use the drive-thru window service, but rather going to the store itself will "lure" people inside for additional purchases, defeating the idea of skipping parking lot congestion.

There are a lot of variables, and it certainly isn't an immediately greener way to shop. Does it just help encourage slovenly consumerism, or does the mere fact that we have this service available shame us into greener shopping and transportation habits? As we recently noted, Black Friday shopping was about 50 times more carbon intensive than Cyber Monday shopping, since in-person shopping has a much larger footprint than online shopping in many instances. This plan is a hybrid of both, but does nothing to minimize the impact of in-person shopping.

As Matt at Gizmodo points out, "I'd be curious to see Best Buy's in-store pickup numbers, since they've been doing it for a long time, though as appealing a symptom of the American condition as this is, I kinda doubt it's gonna take a chunk out of Amazon."

More on Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart's Sustainability Index: The Greenest Thing Ever to Happen to Retail?
The Future of Sustainable Shopping: Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart Reports Its Global Carbon Emissions in 2009 Sustainability Report
Walmart As Government: Screening Chemical Product Formulations To Protect Public Health

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