Although it’s arriving several months later than expected, Walmart’s answer to Amazon Prime is finally scheduled to launch in two weeks, on September 15. Like Prime, Walmart+ offers unlimited free delivery, with some products available same-day in many markets.
Walmart+ looks cheaper than Amazon Prime at first blush—the annual prices for the services are $98 and $119, respectively—but the difference may be less relevant to each company’s bottom line than it looks. Both services also offer a monthly plan, and there’s effectively no cost difference there. When paid monthly, Prime and Plus are only four cents apart, at $12.99 and $12.95 per month, respectively.
Although Amazon is the incumbent in any online shopping competition, Walmart does have some advantages. Where Amazon needed to build massive distribution centers from the ground up, Walmart only needed to leverage small-scale deliveries from the distribution centers and stores it already has. Walmart can also offer some products that Amazon generally can’t—you’ll be able to shop online for local, fresh groceries with Walmart+, as well as get membership-based discounts on gasoline at many of Walmart’s brick-and-mortar locations.
There will be some other key differences between Prime and Plus. Amazon offers free delivery of any Amazon-warehoused product to Prime customers, even in very small quantities. This may not be quite the case with Walmart+; Bloomberg reports that online orders that can’t be fulfilled from a local store will still require a $35 minimum purchase in order to qualify for free shipping.
The new service is considerably later than many insiders expected it, and the timing could have been better—the delay kept Walmart+ from being available for either the quarantine-related grocery surge or the more recent back-to-school rush. A Walmart spokesperson told Bloomberg that the company needed the time to adjust the program to drastic, pandemic-related changes in the way customers shop—and characterizes the entire program as a “life hack” for Walmart customers.
In addition to online shopping, Walmart+ at launch offers 5 cent per gallon gasoline discounts at Walmart, Murphy USA, and Murphy express fuel stations, with Sam’s Club fuel stations expected to follow soon. It also offers a new in-store shopping method called Scan & Go, in which customers use the Walmart smartphone app as both scanner and payment method. The new Scan & Go looks to be a resurrection of a limited program by the same name from 2018, which eliminated the usual checkout process entirely.