Why Is Walmart Filing Blockchain Patents?

Walmart Inc. (WMT) is making another blockchain push. 

The Arkansas-based retail behemoth, which has already reportedly filed blockchain-related patents, has filed for two more. The first patent is for a vendor payment system that automates package tracking and payment processing for shipments. It will be used to fulfill customer orders that require same day delivery. The patent provides an example for its application in an order that has multiple items which require “more discrimination”, such as fresh produce and vegetables. “The vendor payment sharing system and method in accordance with some embodiments permits a user to make one payment that is then encrypted and shared with multiple vendors that worked together to fulfill an order by a customer,” the patent’s authors write. The second patent, which is related to the first, is for a courier shopping system that works in conjunction with a customer relationship module to process orders and ship orders to customers. 

The latest set of reported patents follows a high-profile project announced by the company last year in partnership with IBM (IBM) to ensure food safety. That project used blockchain to source food back to its source. Walmart has formed a coalition of companies to pursue the effort across the food safety industry. Another patent filed by the company envisages a smart package with encoded information relating to its contents and delivery. The package could also be used with drones. 

Why Is Walmart Interested In Blockchain? 

As e-commerce accounts for a greater share of the overall retail pie, blockchain could help Walmart keep pace with its rivals. For example, the company had a three-to-four day delivery window for its suppliers. But Amazon (AMZN) upped the game by reducing delivery times significantly and offering same-day delivery in select markets. With its common ledger and shared copies of data, blockchain could significantly reduce the time and effort required to process orders. Within the context of food safety, blockchain’s timestamp features help establish provenance and freshness quotient of products at Walmart. The new measures are important if Walmart is to maintain its relevancy in retail. (See also: Behind Walmart's 102.57% Rise In 10 Years).

In fact, it is not the only company signing onto the technology. Target Inc. (TGT) has created a position within its organization dedicated to exploring the applications of blockchain within its organization. French retail behemoth Carrefour is also exploring the use of blockchain. According to a study conducted by consulting firm Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. (CTSH) last year, cost savings are a major consideration for retailers in using blockchain. Eighty-two percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the firm said they expected overall supply chain costs to go down by 2.5%. Thirty-six percent of respondents expected savings greater than 5%.

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