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Walmart+ launches Sept 15, offering same-day delivery, gas discounts and cashierless checkout for $98/yr

Walmart today officially unveiled its new membership service and Amazon Prime rival, which it’s calling “Walmart+.” The $98 per year service will combine free, unlimited same-day delivery on groceries and thousands of other items, with additional benefits, like fuel discounts and access to a new Scan & Go service, similar to Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, that will allow members to check out at Walmart stores without having to wait in line.

The service will be available starting on September 15, 2020 nationwide, reaching over 4,700 Walmart stores, including 2,700 stores that offer delivery. Members can choose to pay the $98 per year after a 15-day free-trial period, or they can pay $12.95 on a month-to-month basis.

At launch, the new program promises more than 160,000 items for same-day delivery with no per-delivery fee on orders totaling $35 or more. This is the same value proposition that Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” program offers today. With the launch of Walmart+, “Delivery Unlimited” members will be moved to the rebranded and expanded service.

In addition to delivery savings, the new Walmart+ membership will include fuel discounts of up to 5 cents per gallon on any fuel type at nearly 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express stations nationwide. Walmart+ members will enable the discounts by using the Walmart mobile app, either by scanning a QR code or entering a PIN at the pump. Further down the road, the program will expand to include Sam’s Club fuel stations as well.

Image Credits: Walmart

The Scan & Go membership perk, meanwhile, lets Walmart+ members pay without having to wait in checkout lines — a nice perk to have amid a pandemic, where time in store means time exposed to potential carriers of the novel coronavirus. Using the Walmart app, customers scan scan items as they shop, then pay for them using Walmart Pay for a touch-free checkout experience.

Walmart two years ago had tested cashierless Scan & Go technology in its stores, but killed the program due to shopper theft. Arguably, fewer people will use Scan & Go because it’s a paid service, which could help store staff better combat the earlier problems.

Image Credits: Walmart

As with “Delivery Unlimited,” the Walmart+ orders are picked by in-store staff then handed off to partners like Postmates, DoorDash, Roadie and Point Pickup for delivery. Not owning the end-to-end experience can cause issues for consumers, however — especially because a poor delivery experience can damage Walmart’s reputation, or because customer service issues can’t be always dealt with directly when a middleman is involved. Walmart has also seen partners come and go, as delivery services ended their relationship with Walmart over the costs involved.

Walmart claims its new program is not a Prime rival. But it could encourage some number of Prime members to make a switch.

“We’re not launching Walmart+ with the intent to compete with anything else. We’re launching it with the needs of customers in mind,” explained Walmart Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside.

“Of course, I hope that brings in more customers and makes them more loyal, but when you’re as big as Walmart is — and serving as many people as we are — this is about really doubling down with the customers that we have and getting more share of wallet and more share of mind,” Whiteside added.

Prime is a much more expansive program. For comparison, Prime offers tens of millions of products for two-day delivery, over 10 million for one-day delivery and over 3 million for same-day delivery on orders of $35 or more. Walmart+ is focused more specifically on same-day delivery, as Walmart.com already offers free one-day or two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more without requiring a membership fee.

Prime today also offers a huge array of other perks — like access to free music, video, audiobooks, Kindle books and more. Walmart+ does not.

Still, for many customers, the value in Prime is rooted in its promise of speedy delivery. But at the same time, Amazon has tested the limits of its customer loyalty by steadily raising Prime’s subscription price over the years to now $119 when paid annually, or $12.99 per month. Walmart+ undercuts Prime at $98 per year or $12.95 per month while largely catering to the online grocery shopper — a target market that has rapidly grown during the pandemic. Walmart recently reported the pandemic helped drive its own e-commerce sales, fueled  by online grocery, up 97% in the past quarter.

Image Credits: Walmart

Meanwhile, Amazon’s grocery strategy since its 2017 purchase of Whole Foods has yet to be streamlined. Amazon today continues to offer two different online grocery services, Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods, with a varying array of pickup and delivery options, potentially leading to consumer confusion.

That said, the pandemic has led to massive sales increases for Amazon and Walmart, along with other essential retailers like Target, with all involved reporting stellar earnings in recent quarters.

Walmart’s plans for a new subscription program had previously been reported and a placeholder website has also been live for some time. In August, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told investors on the company’s earnings call that it was readying the launch a membership program that would be centered around delivery. He noted also at the time how Walmart’s existing “Delivery Unlimited” subscription, launched last year, would serve a “great base of an offer” for the broader program, but didn’t offer a launch time frame.

Earlier reports said the service would include other perks, like access to more grocery time slots, promotional deals and eventually a Walmart+ credit card. The retailer declined to speak to its plans, only saying that Walmart+ benefits would expand over time.

“As is the case with any great membership offering, these benefits are not intended to be static. We will continue to leverage our assets and scale to bring solutions at unprecedented value, all while holding true to the everyday low prices that customers know they can always expect from Walmart,” Whiteside said. “In the future, we will be leveraging our wide-ranging strengths to add additional benefits for members in a range of both services and offerings,” she added.

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Pandemic helped drive Walmart e-commerce sales up 97% in second quarter

Walmart’s investments in e-commerce, including online grocery delivery and pickup, are continuing to pay off for the retailer. In the company’s Q2 earnings, released this morning, Walmart reported its U.S. e-commerce sales were up 97% — an increase attributed to more customers shopping online during the pandemic, stocking up on household supplies, and shopping for grocery items online.

Today, Walmart offers grocery pickup at 3,450 locations and same-day delivery at 2,730 stores. Since February, it has expanded time slots by 30% to help meet consumer demand.

Overall, the company also benefited in the quarter from the impact of U.S. consumers’ government stimulus checks. As those stimulus funds ran out, sales began to normalize. But Walmart’s July comparable sales still grew by more than 4%, the company noted.

Walmart’s online marketplace also got a boost from the larger e-commerce bump, with sales up by a triple-digit percentage.

In addition, Walmart’s U.S. same-store sales were up 9.3% in the retailer’s fiscal second quarter, led by strength in general merchandise and food. Walmart President and CEO, Doug McMillon, also noted the retailer saw strong sales in categories like TVs, computing devices, and connected home — sales that also have ties to the pandemic which is forcing people to spend more time at home. He also said some consumers continued to stockpile items in coronavirus hotspots, like cleaning supplies, which were still often out-of-stock. Both cleaning supplies and paper goods (e.g., TP and paper towels) led Walmart’s consumable sales in the quarter.

The overall rise in grocery orders, meanwhile, can be partially attributed to the pandemic’s impacts and not just the ease of shopping for grocery items online. As more people have been cooking meals at home instead of dining out at restaurants, their grocery orders have also increased. Walmart said both grocery pickup and delivery saw “all-time high sales volumes” in the quarter.

The pandemic has been changing how consumers shop, too, the company pointed out. Instead of regular trips to the store, consumers now shop less frequently but buy more during each trip. Combined with the shift to e-commerce, that led to a 27% increase in comparable average ticket sizes in the quarter, while comparable transactions dropped 14%.

On the earnings call, McMillon briefly confirmed Walmart’s plans to introduce a membership service, as had been previously reported. The company is said to be working on its own alternative to Amazon Prime, dubbed Walmart+. But the launch has been repeatedly delayed, Vox recently reported. According to the CEO, Walmart has been testing the delivery component to the membership service since last year with its “Delivery Unlimited” program, which McMillon referred to as “a great base of an offer” for a broader membership program.

Today, Delivery Unlimited subscribers pay either $12.95 per month or $98 per year to order groceries online from Walmart.com without a per-order fee. Walmart+, however, will reportedly include other perks, like gas discounts and special product deals. McMillon didn’t speak to the specifics of its service, saying instead that Walmart will have more to offer when it’s ready to talk about it.

Overall, Walmart beat on earnings in the quarter, with revenue of $137.74 billion, topping estimates of $135.48 billion. Earnings per share came in at $1.56 adjusted, versus the expected $1.25. Net income also rose year-over-year to $6.48 billion, or $2.27 per share, up from $3.61 billion, or $1.26.

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Walmart’s Sam’s Club launches curbside pickup nationwide

Walmart’s online grocery business has been a significant contributor to its growing e-commerce sales, particularly now amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now the retailer is expanding access to curbside pickup at its warehouse club chain, Sam’s Club. Today, Sam’s Club announced the nationwide launch of curbside pickup, bringing the service to all its 597 clubs across the U.S.

The retailer had been piloting curbside pickup at 16 club locations before today’s launch, and saw positive results. With the pandemic sending more shoppers online, Sam’s Club has since expedited the rollout to all locations, where it’s free for Plus-level members and above.

To use the service, Sam’s Club members can either order online or via the Sam’s Club mobile app by looking for products marked as “Pick up in Club.” At checkout, they’ll then be able to select a pickup time. Same-day pickup will be one of the options, the retailer says. Similar to how curbside works at parent company Walmart, Sam’s Club shoppers will park in one of the designated spots when they arrive at the store and a Sam’s Club employee will load the items into the customer’s car.

Store associates, meanwhile, use custom-built technology like the Quick Pick app for employees, which is used to pick and dispense orders.

Online pickup orders can be scheduled from 7 AM to 9 PM, Monday through Saturday, and 10 AM to 5 PM on Sundays, the retailer says.

While the service is free for Plus members, it will also be offered to non-Plus members for a limited time. However, they will have more limited time slots available: 10 AM to 8 PM, Monday to Saturday, and 10 AM to 5 PM on Sundays.

“While free Curbside Pickup is a new Plus member benefit, we recognize all of our members are looking for contact-free shopping options as part of the current environment,” said Lance de la Rosa, Chief Operating Officer, Sam’s Club, in a statement about the launch. “Because of that, we are going to temporarily make the service available for every member and do what we can to help them get the products they need, when and how they want them.”

Of course, the company’s long-term plan is to get these free members to upgrade, while also taking away more business from online grocery rivals, including Amazon, Instacart and Target’s Shipt.

Even ahead of the pandemic, Walmart had been surging ahead of Amazon as consumers’ preferred online grocery provider. It’s also now reportedly looking to rebrand its unlimited online grocery delivery service as Walmart+. Combined with Sam’s Club’s new option for curbside, the retailer will have a number of ways for consumers to shop from a Walmart-owned store.

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