According to the Fortune Global 500 list released in 2019, based on revenue of $514 billion, Walmart was the largest company in the world. Like all businesses around the world, Walmart has had to make some drastic policy changes this past year. Social distancing restrictions have made browsing the aisles of your favorite retailers anything but simple. But still, Walmart has managed to adjust to the times and succeed. Besides increasing contactless shopping, rapid delivery and curbside pickup, self-checkout lanes, sanitation stations, and plexiglass partitions, Walmart also began using drones amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2020, Walmart announced that they would begin a trial period of delivering small packages to customers via drones to alleviate the need for people leaving the safety of their homes. The trial was based out of Bentonville, Arkansas with the help of drone delivery solutions provider, Flytrex. Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice-president of customer products said in a statement, “We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone. That still feels like a bit of science fiction.” Shortly thereafter, Walmart announced that they would be running another drone delivery trial out of Las Vegas, Nevada. However, instead of using drones to deliver small grocery packages, the drones would be delivering COVID-19 test kits free of charge to local residents. All the customer would need to do once administering the test would be to get the test to a local lab for results.
On November 23, 2020, Walmart Chief Marketing Officer William White announced yet another drone adventure that Walmart would be embracing. “After a particularly tough year, we want to help families end the year looking up,” he said. “We want customers and communities to enjoy a moment of rest, peace, and hope.” This special treat would come in the form of an elaborate holiday-themed drone light show. Walmart scheduled a tour of 8 US cities to put on the free show. Carloads of no more than 5 people could claim tickets that would come with designated parking spots from where the show could be viewed. The first show would also be live-streamed on Walmart’s YouTube channel, Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok accounts. The first city for the drone light show was Kansas City, Kansas on Friday, December 4. Followed by shows in Dallas, Texas, San Antonio, Texas, Doswell, Virginia, Phoenix, Arizona, Charlotte, North Carolina, Sacramento, California, and finally Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The show lasted about an hour and featured the animated Dream Works Trolls Holiday special followed by a drone light show. More than 1,000 Intel mini LED drones choreographed to classic holiday songs were used for the presentation. Some of the songs included Kelly Clarkson’s Run Run Rudolph, Bing Crosby’s Frosty the Snowman, and Run D.M.C.’s Christmas in Hollis. The mini drones swarmed the sky forming snowflakes, a DJ elf, a mug of hot cocoa, peace bells, a giant snowman, gingerbread men, candy canes, and much more. For those watching the live streams of the show, they were offered a unique point of view as well.
While Walmart filmed and broadcast the drone show with a crew of ground cameras, they also used a few drones to film the show from the air. This meant that one of the first things you see is the launchpad for the drones, an aspect that is normally hidden from view in a drone show. Intel set the drone’s launchpad to flash lights in time with the music and be a part of the show, and watching the drones rise from the pad was pretty cool. Another interesting perspective is that whoever was piloting the filming drone flew the drone into the swarm so you could see how the mini drones take shape. It was almost like the viewer got to be a part of the swarm and the image being created. Then the drone would position itself in front of the images giving you an up close view of the spectacle unlike any other seen before.
For Walmart, this free drone show was a way of honoring and thanking communities. This past year has been undeniably trying. Many people have felt despondent leading up to the holiday season. Walmart wanted to show the world that in times of hardship, we can look up to a new year beginning and see hope and joy. As Walmart states on the Holiday Drone Light Show website, “Let’s end the year looking up. The show is a magical experience that brings all the wonder and joy of the holiday season to the skies.”