By SARA DINATALE
TAMPA — After using Tampa Bay as one of its test areas for delivery, Walmart has begun offering grocery drop-offs to homes and businesses across the country.
The super chain said it plans for its delivery platform to reach more than 100 metro areas — 40 percent of the country — by the end of the year.
Stores that already offer grocery pick-up will be the first to unroll delivery. Tampa is one of six markets — Orlando and Dallas are also on that list — that has been acting as a trial run.
"We have learned an awful lot from our delivery pilot," Walmart's vice president of digital operations Tom Ward said during a telephone press conference on Tuesday. "The concept of saving time is just as important as saving money."
Walmart will offer a flat delivery fee of $9.95 and orders must be $30 minimum. The costs of items will be the same as they are in store, Ward said.
Users will be able to select an hour-long window by which to receive their groceries. One of the store's "personal shoppers" will collect the items. Then, a driver will deliver them to customers.
"Say they order by 1 p.m.," Ward said, "they could have their delivery the same day in as little as three or four hours."
Walmart has been using Uber drivers during its trial to man its deliveries. Ward said stores will continue to use Uber, but that the company will soon announce other crowd-sourcing partners.
"We've built a really robust infrastructure in-house to hire personal shoppers into the business," Ward said. "This expansion is just adding the concept of delivery to the process that already existed."
About 1,200 Walmart stores across the country have grocery pick-up with 1,000 more planned to be added this year.
Walmart may be somewhat late to the local grocery delivery sphere, but it has massive reach. The chain says nearly 90 percent of Americans are within 10 miles of a Walmart.
Already, Whole Foods' partnership with Amazon has enabled customers to order groceries delivered through Prime Now.
Shipt started delivering groceries from Publix Super Markets in 2015. In June, Publix announced it would offer same-day grocery delivery from all of its locations by 2020, many of which are already operating in Tampa Bay.
Safeway, Google Express and WeDeliverGroceries.com also offer delivery.
Tampa's Walmart delivery began as a soft launch about a year ago in five stores.
Delivery is becoming less of an option, and more of market demand. Ward said Walmart has also gained new customers through the service: People who may not regularly shop at Walmart, but use the delivery service when short on time.
"On average, the feedback we're getting from customers is really positive," he said.
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Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.