- Walmart has created a new online membership program dubbed Walmart+, a company spokesperson confirmed for Retail Dive without disclosing details.
- Vox's Recode, which broke the story, reported that Walmart has been developing the program over the past year and a half to take on Amazon's Prime membership program. Walmart+, which could launch in March, would include "perks that Amazon can't replicate, in part to avoid a direct comparison to Prime," Recode reported, citing anonymous sources.
- Perks could include unlimited same-day delivery on groceries and text-based shopping, the latter of which Walmart has tested through its now-defunct Jet Black shopping service. Later, prescription drug and gas discounts, and scan and go services, could be part of the program, according to Recode.
Since acquiring Jet in 2016 and getting serious about e-commerce, Walmart has touted its subscription-free model in a not-so-subtle jab at Amazon. Even as Walmart unveiled its one-day shipping plans, it held to its free model for orders over $35.
And while that may be an effective counter to Amazon in some customer segments, there is little question that Amazon's Prime membership creates sticky, loyal and higher-spending customers. The program — which offers video streaming, music, box programs and a host of other perks, along with free shipping — is central to Amazon's quest for e-commerce supremacy.
"Prime membership continues to get better for customers year after year. And customers are responding — more people joined Prime this quarter than ever before, and we now have over 150 million paid Prime members around the world," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a press release announcing the company's fourth quarter results. "We've made Prime delivery faster — the number of items delivered to U.S. customers with Prime's free one-day and same-day delivery more than quadrupled this quarter compared to last year."
Among the latest Prime perks is grocery delivery, which is where Walmart is starting with its own Walmart+ subscription, according to Recode. Walmart already offers a program for unlimited grocery delivery for $98 a year. According to Recode, the new subscription program "is expected to essentially launch as a rebrand of Walmart's existing Delivery Unlimited service."
Where it goes from there is an open-ended question. As with traditional e-commerce, Walmart has a long way to go to play catch-up, to the extent that it is chasing Amazon. Online, Amazon still dominates, with just under 39% of the market, according to eMarketer's latest estimates. Far behind is Walmart at No. 2, with 5.3% of market share.
Walmart+, depending on its perks and customers' receptiveness in an age of proliferating membership options, could move the needle more. Walmart has also unveiled a new third-party fulfillment service for its marketplace sellers — again a key feature of Amazon's model. (The latter boasts a massive third-party marketplace, flush with profitable services to offer sellers, that has overtaken Amazon's own retail sales.)
But the retailer, at the moment anyway, doesn't need to model itself after Amazon. Walmart is still the largest company in the world and makes well more than Amazon in revenue and profit from their respective retail operations. That is largely thanks to something Amazon doesn't have: a sprawling global network of superstores that can act as hubs for both customers and distribution.
Walmart+ also risks sending mixed messages to consumers. "Walmart's messaging was always that you didn't need to pay a fee for fast shipping, right? Jet had a membership program and then killed it very early on, didn't it?" Forrester Retail Analyst Sucharita Kodali said in emailed comments. "I hope they're not trying to replicate Amazon Prime — that doesn't make too much sense."