Walmart Challenges Amazon Prime With New Walmart+ Membership Program

A NEW PLAYER IN THE ERA OF AMAZON PRIME

Walmart continues to entrench itself further into the home delivery and subscription category, doubling down on its efforts to take on global behemoth Amazon. The latest play from the retail giant comes in the form of “Walmart+”, a membership program announced on Tuesday September 1st. The program will be fully inducted by September 15th, and will boast a 15-day free trial period for curious customers.

The service, which was actually expected for activation in March but was delayed by COVID-19, blends existing Walmart offerings such as Scan & Go and Walmart Pay with competitive features like unlimited and free same-day-delivery, gas discounts, and frictionless in-store experiences.

Even though the expected early spring launch has been delayed, the timing of this program feels perfectly aligned with current customer complexities and promises to satiate the broad needs of countless shoppers. “Life feels more complicated than ever,” says Janey Whiteside, Walmart’s Chief Customer Officer. “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.”

Members of Walmart’s year-old “Delivery Unlimited” program, introduced in 1,400 of its physical locations, will automatically be enrolled into Walmart+. They will keep free delivery benefits, and the cost structure should remain the same at $98 annually or $12.95 a month (there is, however, a minimum order size of $35 to qualify for delivery benefits). But even these users will benefit from significant upgrades, allowing them to scan their items as they shop, pay with Walmart Pay for quick touch-free payments, and take advantage of 5 cent gas discounts.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

While the program looks promising, a few specificities could benefit from a closer examination of the competitive landscape as well as further Walmart Plus details:

  • Will the September 15th launch date be enough to tackle Amazon’s playbook head on? “Walmart clearly wants to get the program off the ground sooner [rather] than later in order to make hay in advance of the Christmas shopping season,” says retail consultant Carol Spieckerman, as reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The pressure is on from a timing standpoint.”
  • What will be the market availability breakdown? This is an especially important consideration given that demand may be more significant in sparse rural geographies with more limited access to brick-and-mortar shopping.
  • What other roles will technology integrations play as the program steams ahead? As noted by pymnts.com, the role of Instacart is left up in the air.
  • Will additional loyalty strategies, discounts, or special offerings be built into the program? At the time of writing, no special discounts, rewards or deals have been announced aside from the 15-day free trial for new members, and there may be an unanswered opportunity for loyalty beyond the basic membership.

ON THE PLUS SIDE FOR WALMART

Walmart Plus is taking on Amazon Prime in a basic sense. The convenient cadence of unlimited free delivery and quick-turnaround online shopping is no longer a luxury these days, but a commercial staple that many customers can’t live without. But in another sense, Walmart+ can offer a path-to-purchase hierarchy beyond even what Amazon Prime has primed audiences to expect: a sophisticated, yet familiar in-store experience augmented with mobile technology and in-tune with the latest shopper demands. COVID-19 has changed the landscape far beyond mere technological whims like contactless payments. The reality is that the pandemic has further fragmented preferences and divided customers on habits and behaviors. The vendors which can offer the most options inside an ecosystem which remains united and seamless will resonate the most inside these contemporary complexities — and Walmart+ seems to be a firm step into the future.

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