Walmart has been expanding the reach of its grocery business for several years, and may be looking to use technology to make its supply chains more efficient. The retail giant has filed patents for six drones that would help automate the farming process, Business Insider reported. The full details of the drones haven’t been revealed, but we do know that one is meant to pollinate crops, one would work to protect plants from pests, and a third would keep an eye on plant health.
While this would give Walmart more control over its supply chain, it is unlikely that the company is planning on going into the farming business. Instead, Walmart will sell these drones to partner farms in an attempt to make them more efficient. On the consumer side of things, this could mean higher supplies of fruits and vegetables and lower prices, though nothing is certain.
Paula Savanti, a senior consumer analyst at Rabobank, told Business Insider that she believes the drones will give Walmart more insight into what is happening on its farms, and allow for better response to changes in supply.
“I’m guessing that any tech that’s geared toward improving efficiency at the farm level would benefit them. It would allow them to anticipate supply problems and adjust accordingly,” Savanti said.
Overall, this would help make Walmart’s supply chain more predictable and help it better compete with online retailers — most notably Amazon. Savanti noted that the rise of Amazon has triggered a change in the way retailers look at technology. It is no longer enough to simply have a well-designed web site.
“Part of the ‘Amazon effect’ is making these [retail] companies start looking into investments in different areas beyond ecommerce,” Savanti said. “It forces them to redirect investments to improving their technological capabilities in general — not just at the end of the supply chain, but in the beginning as well.”
Amazon may have spelled the end of the road for a lot of bookstores and electronic outlets, such as Circuit City, but consumers are still fairly new to the concept of online grocery shopping. Companies like Walmart still have a chance to compete with Amazon in that field.
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