Walmart vs. Amazon: Which online retailer is better, and why

Walmart vs. Amazon: Which has better prices, shipping, and customer service?

Back in the 90s, going out and physically shopping at the mall was a regular activity. You’d go there to shop for clothes, see a movie, grab lunch at the food court, or to grab that new CD you wanted from Sam Goody or Tower Records. Have you been to a mall lately, though? It’s nothing like it was back then. Most malls today are like ghost towns, with gates in front of many of the stores and few patrons shopping on any given day.

These days, so many of us do our shopping online. We can buy just about anything without getting off the couch, and have it delivered right to the front door. Two of the main players in the online shopping arena are Amazon and Walmart. Both have marketplaces, quick shipping options, and a wide variety of items ranging from electronics to clothing to kitchen gadgets to sex toys.

Walmart may be behind Amazon in terms of online performance, but the big box store has been rapidly growing its online customer base. Between early 2017 and early 2019, Walmart has seen 207% growth in its eCommerce buyer base.

Which online retailer is better? Which has the better shipping, grocery, prices, product selection, marketplace offerings, return policies and customer service? Both have their good points and bad, but we’re comparing the two side-by-side to find out which online retailer reigns supreme. Let the online shopping showdown begin!

Shipping

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Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimate that more than 100 million people in the U.S. subscribe to Amazon Prime, so most people are familiar with Amazon’s subscription service that gives you a ton of features like video content, music, books, and more for a monthly ($13) or annual fee ($119). Prime also affords subscribers free two-day shipping on eligible items, and people who live in eligible zip codes can get free one-day shipping, or even free same-day shipping.

Walmart offers a few different free shipping options, however, and you don’t have to pay any subscription fee at all. In select cities, the retailer offers free next-day shipping on qualifying orders over $35. Even if next-day shipping isn’t available in your area, you can get two-day shipping on orders over $35 regardless to where you live. Marketplace items, and certain other items are separate, and don’t count in the $35 total. For non-marketplace items that aren’t marked “free 2-day shipping,” you can usually get free 3-5 day shipping. For marketplace items, you may have to pay a separate fee for shipping though.

Winner: Walmart 

Grocery and Food

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Amazon offers a few different food services including Prime Now, Amazon Fresh, and Prime Pantry. Prime Now delivers groceries, household items, and restaurant foods to Prime members in select cities. Amazon Fresh is an extra subscription ($14.99/month in addition to Prime) that lets you have groceries delivered to you. The two services — Amazon Fresh and Prime Now — are set to be merging. Prime Pantry is another separate paid service where you fill up a box with food items and have them shipped to your home. Most of Amazon’s food options have an added cost outside of your regular Prime membership, whether that cost be extra shipping costs or delivery fees, extra subscription fees, both a subscription cost and a delivery or shipping fee, or the option to choose between an extra subscription fee or an extra shipping cost each time you use the service.

Walmart, on the other hand, offers a grocery pickup service that’s entirely free. There are no subscription costs whatsoever. They also offer a delivery service for a small fee (usually under $10 per delivery, regardless of the amount of groceries you order). Like Amazon, Walmart’s delivery service is only available in select cities. Walmart customers can also order a wide variety of food and household items on the Walmart website and receive free 2-day delivery provided their order exceeds $35. Walmart’s digital food sales grew 53% year over year, compared to just 8% at Amazon, according to eMarketer.

Winner: Walmart

Prices

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In 2018, LendEDU conducted an analysis where they compared 50 identical products across a variety different categories — home goods, technology and entertainment, food and beverage, kitchen and appliances, and others. They found that Amazon was 10.37% more expensive than Walmart if a customer was to purchase the identical items from both retailers.

Amazon offers discounts and incentives, like coupons, and a variety of discounts for Prime members. However, Walmart has a slight edge over Amazon, providing a variety of rollback discounts, clearance items, incentives for customers for picking up their items in-store, as well as free shipping without a subscription fee.

Winner: Walmart

Product Selection

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Walmart has a huge selection of items, and the selection has only widened with the addition of the online marketplace. The online retailer is no longer the budget buffet of items it once was. You can order items from brands like Nike or even Gucci, as well as the latest tech gadgets or fashion. According to Marketplace Pulse, Walmart online has roughly 43 million products as of late 2018.

While Walmart has a wide selection, Amazon has just about everything your heart could desire — virtually every size, color, shape, and brand.

Winner: Amazon

Marketplaces

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Walmart’s online marketplace is still in its infancy. Although Walmart.com launched almost two decades ago, it wasn’t until the company acquired Jet.com a few short years ago that it became a real contender in the online shopping arena.

Amazon’s third-party marketplace, however, is extremely well-established, and Amazon reports that 50% of its sales come from its third-party selection.

Winner: Amazon

Return policies

Walmart typically allows customers to return items in the store or by mail within 90-days of purchase. Certain items, like electronics, have a smaller return window (15 to 30 days depending on the item). If you buy an item from a Walmart marketplace seller, things get a bit tricky though. The seller can set their own return policy, as long as it meets Walmart’s minimum standards (i.e. the seller is allowed to charge a maximum restocking fee of 20%, and a return shipping fee).

Amazon and most of the sellers on Amazon allow you return items within 30 days of shipment. Because Amazon has so many Marketplace sellers, most of them adhere to Amazon’s return policies. If not, Amazon third-party sellers must provide a return address within the United States, provide a prepaid return label, or offer a full refund without requesting the item be returned so the customer is not left paying a huge shipping bill. Amazon also has an A-to-Z guarantee to protect customers from unfair return policies. Amazon even has “try before you buy” services like Prime Wardrobe, so you can find out if a clothing item is the right fit and style before you decide to keep it.

Winner: Amazon

Overall Winner: Amazon

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Being a Walmart online customer means getting low prices, not having to pay any subscription fees, and getting free and fast shipping on most orders. Walmart online customers can also order pickup items for a better deal, and often pick their items up the same day. For groceries, Walmart’s delivery service is one of the most cost-effective options available. However, Walmart is known for earning less than stellar customer service scores, receiving some of the lowest marks among internet retailers in ACSI (American Consumer Satisfaction Index) reports.

Amazon offers a lot of value to customers too, and some of that value is more qualitative than quantitative. The customer service is excellent, with 95% of respondents reporting they were “very satisfied” or “rather satisfied” with Amazon customer service in a Statista survey. Amazon also consistently receives high marks in ACSI reports. And while Amazon charges for its Prime subscription, members get a ton of extra perks in addition to free shipping. From music to shows to books, Amazon continues to add more to Prime, while also making customers feels valued. So, Amazon is the better online retailer, but not by a landslide as you may have thought. Walmart is catching up, and we will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.

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