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ANOTHER GO

Will Instacart finally get New Yorkers to welcome Walmart?

Entrance to a Walmart store.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo/File Photo
Times have changed.
  • Michelle Cheng
By Michelle Cheng

Reporter

Published Last updated on

Walmart is expanding its grocery deliveries into New York City, again.

This week, the retail giant announced it has partnered with Instacart to deliver groceries to parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

Some 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store. But there is no brick-and-mortar store in New York City, stemming from years of opposition from the city and its residents to the company and its labor practices. Instead, Instacart shoppers will bring the items from Walmart stores outside the city and into these neighborhoods. The food delivery service said it has improved its technology and operations to enable longer-distance delivery, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Instacart, which also competes with Walmart in some markets, should benefit from adding more users, particularly Walmart customers in lower-income brackets, and gathering their data. Walmart, the leader in US grocery delivery, currently holds 48% of the market, according to data from Bloomberg Second Measure, a market research firm.

The move comes as more people depend on the convenience of delivery amid the pandemic. Walmart says that it began a pilot program with Instacart in a small number of cities in California as well as in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year.

Walmart’s past struggles in New York City

So why can’t Walmart be found in New York City?

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company has tried to break into the market for decades. The company has received strong opposition from labor unions and elected officials who argued that Walmart’s presence would push smaller merchants out of business and kill jobs. In 2005 and 2006, facing pressure from unions and activists, real estate developers dropped site plans that would have included Walmart stores in Queens and Staten Island. “I don’t think it is a state secret that I am very uncomfortable with Walmart,” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told Newsday in 2014. “I have been adamant that I don’t think Walmart—the company, the stores—belong in New York City, and I continue to feel that.”

Not finding success with physical stores, the company then tried delivery. In 2018, Walmart offered delivery via Jet.com, an e-commerce site it acquired before the company was folded into the store the following year; it also offered delivery via JetBlack, a personal shopping service, which ended in 2020.

But times have changed. Delivery is now everywhere, and food delivery services have been working on making their services more efficient. Jet.com reportedly faced operational difficulties and low-uptake in New York from the start.

This move allows Walmart to better compete with Amazon in grocery delivery. Amazon has a strong presence in the city with more than 8,000 employees and at least 12 warehouses in five boroughs.

New Yorkers may also be more welcoming of Walmart as its image as a threatening corporation has softened over the years. That’s in part because the public spotlight has been focused on labor conditions on Amazon, as it continues to expand its fulfillment centers.

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