Hundreds of remote-controlled delivery robots will be rolled out for use by convenience stores across the US through a partnership struck by sidewalk logistics startup Tortoise.
Tortoise says its electric delivery carts provide same-day, last-mile delivery to local residents at costs 50-75% lower compared to traditional courier services.
The San Francisco-based firm has agreed a two-year deal with King Retail Solutions (KRS), a retail brand strategy firm, which will resell and distribute 500 delivery robots for deployment by their convenience store customers.
KRS will lease the robots to customers, potentially bundled with additional retail management services, with monthly fees paid according to miles driven.
OttOmate, a food automation and robotics publication, has called it “the largest single-order of delivery robots we’ve ever seen”.
The agreement comes on the heels of a trio of partnerships announced by Tortoise last month: with last-mile logistics supplier AxelHire, two Shoprite stores in Pennsylvania and Choice Market, which runs three grocery stores in Denver.
Tortoise, which introduced its sidewalk delivery robot in September 2020, is competing in this embryonic niche against the likes of Starship Technologies, also based in Silicon Valley. Amazon, Kroger and Walmart are also experimenting with delivery robots.
The smiley-faced robots can transport more than 150 pounds worth of groceries and other items at speeds of up to eight miles per hour, to addresses up to three miles away.
The battery-powered units can travel around 10 miles in between recharges, mount kerbs and deliver in rain and snow.
C-stores load the cart and text the delivery address and cart number to Tortoise, which manually and remotely directs it along the sidewalk to its destination, unlocking the container upon receipt.
The robots could eventually become autonomous when regulations permit, with Tortoise gathering data in the meantime to train its AI.
“Everybody’s waking up to this new reality that same-day is the new normal, and it’s just not sustainable on every possible front to have that consumer expectation be met with people making $20 an hour doing those deliveries,” Dmitry Shevelenko, CEO and co-founder of Tortoise, told Tech Crunch. “The math just doesn’t work.”
Covid-19 has supercharged demand for home delivery of all manner of goods and C-stores, few of which have the technical resources to develop their own platforms, need off-the-shelf solutions to capitalize.
Online spending in the convenience store sector soared by 346% in 2020, according to a report by Edison Trends – around three times faster than equivalent growth for restaurants and grocery stores.
As reported by BusinessesForSale.com last month, C-store delivery service Lula has agreed a partnership with Uber Eats in a bid to claim a greater share of this growing demand.
Emerging delivery models give C-stores a chance to gain an edge on any local competitors who are slow to adopt new technologies.
And anything that boosts sales should reflect favorably in the sale price if and when store owners sell their business.
Comprising 150,000 outlets nationally, the convenience store market is highly competitive, so an established ability to fulfil same-day online orders will surely help any business for sale stand out from the crowd.