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Wayfair’s Latest Collab? Autonomous Trucking

Count vehicle autonomy among the technology solutions Wayfair’s testing to bolster its logistics capabilities.

The Boston-based home furnishings retailer is set to begin an autonomous trucking pilot next month in Texas with trucking company J.B. Hunt and Alphabet’s Waymo.

Wayfair, which is a J.B. Hunt customer, marks the first home goods retailer to test the technology and helps further expand driverless capabilities.

“Real-time testing with customers like Wayfair is critical to making autonomous freight movement a viable solution in the future,” J.B. Hunt chief sustainability officer and executive vice president Craig Harper said. “Every supply chain is unique, so it’s important that customers can work alongside J.B. Hunt and Waymo to ensure that advanced autonomous technology will create capacity that meets their needs.”

The six-week Wayfair pilot runs in July and August, with the vehicle route spanning Houston and Dallas.

J.B. Hunt and Waymo first began piloting the autonomous technology last year. The two said in January that they struck a long-term strategic alliance where J.B. Hunt would be the first customer of Waymo’s fully autonomous operations in Texas over the next few years. The agreement also includes continued pilots in the state.

For Wayfair, the pilot builds on what it has already been doing internally when it comes to logistics. Wayfair began building out its own logistics network some six years ago, which it calls CastleGate Logistics.

The digital freight forwarding service works with suppliers at the factory and warehouse level to manage timing of exports and imports, handling customs, ocean shipping and drayage among other services.

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The company sees continued growth for CastleGate as more suppliers grasp the full-service offering.

“We are seeing strong interest in selling on Wayfair, due in large part to the value that suppliers can derive from CastleGate, all the way from Asia consolidation and ocean freight forwarding to storage and fulfillment, to last mile logistics,” Wayfair co-founder, co-chair and ceo Niraj Shah told investors last month during the retailer’s first-quarter earnings call.

Suppliers have roughly doubled since 2019, with Shah saying the company expects increased use of its logistics services moving forward.

“To facilitate this, we are driving more education, simplifying the supplier onboarding process and bundling services to make it easier than ever for them to take advantage of CastleGate,” Shah said. “Over time, this should unlock a wide range of benefits like better delivery speed, higher conversion and improved cost efficiency as well as more reliable ocean and last mile capacity, all of which lead to a win for customers, suppliers and Wayfair.”

Technology is further boosting CastleGate’s capabilities, with Wayfair using machine learning to deliver search results to consumers that return products located in fulfillment centers closest to them.

“Doing so, can significantly cut the distance products travel, lowering costs and prices, reducing damage and driving higher conversion,” chief technology officer Fiona Tan said.

Fast and accurate delivery to the end consumer is the overarching end goal with Shah telling shippers and carriers at an industry conference earlier this year, “if you don’t control logistics, you can’t control the customer experience.”