A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Walmart Delivers

By Jennifer DeShields
June 2, 2016
Walmart Truck Side View

Since the 1960s, the ability to replenish stores and clubs quickly and efficiently has been a key contributor to Walmart’s success. But have you ever wondered how the products you buy get there in the first place? Or how your online order gets from fulfillment to your door - fast? Here’s a look inside how it all happens.

Humble beginnings. Walmart’s distribution network began in a rented garage in the 1960s. The first distribution center opened in 1970, and is now used as office space as part of the company’s Home Office in Bentonville, Ark.

Size and scale. Our distribution and transportation operation is one of the largest in the world, serving stores, clubs and direct delivery to customers with 163 distribution centers. Walmart Logistics is made up of 93,000 associates, including 7,900 drivers. 

Anything but average. An average facility serves 90-100 stores within a 200-mile radius. A regional distribution center can have up to 12 miles of conveyor belts capable of moving hundreds of thousands of cases through the center each day. Many of the facilities provide a unique merchandise assortment for specific stores; for example, a Walmart grocery distribution center is equipped to house up to 4 million bananas at one time.

Always prepared. Walmart has six disaster distribution centers strategically located across the country. They're stocked with relief supplies needed to assist communities with recovery.

Miles to go. Collectively, Walmart’s fleet drivers log approximately 700 million miles per year. The average Walmart truck driver logs more than 100,000 miles annually – the equivalent of about four trips around the world! And they work with safety in mind: The fleet has been named the “Safest Fleet” of its kind 12 out of the last 16 years.

Efficient design. In 2005, Walmart committed to a momentous goal: doubling the efficiency of our fleet by the end of 2015. By working with our associates to establish more efficient techniques for loading, routing and driving, as well as through collaboration with tractor trailer manufacturers on new technologies, we achieved this goal. With new efficiencies, our year-end results were a 102.2% improvement over our 2005 baseline, with associated savings of nearly $1 billion annually.

Cleaner energy. Walmart U.S. operates the largest fleet of forklifts powered by hydrogen in the world. Twenty percent – approximately 4,200 forklifts – has been converted. Not only do hydrogen fuel cells provide consistent power to the forklift, which increases productivity, they also have a five-year life cycle. In comparison, Walmart was replacing 1,800 large lead acid batteries each year before converting to hydrogen.

The future of e-commerce is now. For online orders, we’re using new and existing assets to reach customers faster and more efficiently. In the last 18 months, Walmart built seven new online fulfillment centers strategically located across the U.S. that give us efficient access to 95% of U.S. customers in two days or faster. These new centers combine with our more than 4,600 stores that serve as pickup locations for online orders,  store distribution centers and our world-class transportation fleet to get the company closer to customers. And, the @WalmartLabs team out in Silicon Valley crunches billions of variables and developed algorithms that determine from where an order should ship based on a customer's location.

Testing for the future. We’re always looking at how emerging technology can enhance our supply chain. Last year, we started a special team to help us do that. Some of the technology we’re looking at includes augmented reality, virtual reality, micro-warehouses, hyperlocal distribution centers and drones.