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Walmart+ mounts challenge to Amazon Prime

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal­mart this month launched its Walmart+ membership program, which is designed to compete with Amazon Prime by leveraging in-store and online assets that include fuel discounts and unlimited free delivery from stores. Walmart+ membership, available beginning on September 15, will cost $98 a year or $12.95 a month and includes a 15-day free trial ­period.

“We are a company committed to meeting our customers’ needs,” Walmart chief customer officer Janey Whiteside said in announcing the program. “Customers know they can trust us and depend on us, and we’ve designed this program as the ultimate life hack for them. Walmart+ will bring together a comprehensive set of benefits where we see the greatest needs from our customers and where our scale can bring solutions at an unprecedented value.”

The benefits available to Walmart+ members will grow over time, according to the retailer, which is expected to add more perks like fuel discounts that Amazon would be hard-pressed to match.

The initial benefits are:

• Unlimited free delivery: Shoppers can get delivery as fast as same-day on more than 160,000 items from tech and toys to household essentials and groceries, according to Walmart, which notes that this service was previously known as Delivery Unlimited and allowed customers to get an unlimited number of deliveries for a low, flat yearly or monthly fee. Delivery Unlimited subscribers will automatically become Walmart+ members, the company said.

• Scan & Go: By using the Walmart app, customers can scan their items as they shop and pay for them using Walmart Pay for a quick, easy, touch-free payment experience.

• Fuel discounts: Walmart+ members can save up to 5 cents a gallon at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express fuel stations, the retailer said, noting that Sam’s Club fuel stations will soon be added to this lineup.

Walmart said these benefits come in addition to such existing offerings as free curbside pickup, NextDay delivery and two-day delivery. For people who prefer not to become Walmart+ members, the retailer will continue offer delivery options with a per-delivery transaction fee.

“Life feels more complicated than ever,” Whiteside said. “Walmart+ is designed to make it easier — giving customers an option to not have to sacrifice on cost or convenience. We know shopping should fit customers’ needs, not the other way around. We have always been a champion for the right item at the right price, but now it’s more than that. We have the right shopping solutions at the right time, too.”

Industry observers see the introduction of Walmart+ as a smart move that builds on the retailer’s strengths.

“Walmart’s strategy with Wal­mart+ isn’t about competing against Amazon or Amazon Prime first and foremost,” argues Meyar Sheik, president and chief commerce officer at Kibo and member of the National Retail Federation’s digital advisory board. “There are plenty of consumers who shop at both Walmart and Amazon for different reasons, including product assortment. Walmart is smartly leveraging its massive brick-and-mortar presence to deliver the best possible shopping experience, fusing the e-commerce world with the convenience of your local and familiar Walmart store.

“Walmart+ also helps Walmart protect and expand its dominance in grocery — I don’t expect loyal Walmart grocery shoppers to switch to Whole Foods anytime soon. And, unlimited free grocery delivery, particularly in the face of the ongoing pandemic, is a big perk.”

The introduction of Walmart+ comes on the heels of the retailer’s announcement of results for its second fiscal quarter, which included a 97% sales gain for Walmart U.S. e-commerce. In a conference call on the quarterly results, Walmart chief executive officer Doug McMillon noted that for customers who want to get delivery from Walmart frequently, it’s more efficient to buy it in bulk in the form of an annual membership.

“And we’ll add some things to it beyond just delivery, so that it’s really more of a membership and a relationship,” McMillon said. “Building repeat is going to be an important aspect for the company to focus on. We’ll also get the benefits of data and learn how to serve customers more effectively in time as that membership grows. I think in a nutshell for the customer, it relates to experience. We keep talking about how omnichannel is a winning strategy, and what we really mean by that, I think, is the customer is ultimately in charge. We are going to be flexible. We’re going to have multiple ways to serve them, and those families will decide in that moment how they want to shop.”


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