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 pick up 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.
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 e-commerce 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!
Around 126 million people subscribe to Amazon Prime: That means many 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.
Amazon also allows you to group items into different shipments if possible, so you can choose to get items faster, or get them all at once. The company may even offer a credit if you choose easier or more eco-friendly shipping groups.
Walmart offers several different shipping options, including:
- Next-Day: Only available in certain areas, this aims for 24-hour delivery and costs $6 for orders under $35, while it’s free for orders over that.
- Two-Day: Two shipping is the same as Next-Day, but it’s available in far more places. The $6 fee still applies to orders under $35.
- Three- to Five-Day: This is standard shipping, and follows the same $6 rule, which means there’s really no reason to pick this option when most buyers can choose two-day shipping.
All of Walmart’s shipping options are available to all shoppers with no need for any extra subscription. However, Walmart+ does offer unlimited free delivery, which largely does away with shipping fees if you are interested. Freight and shipping may differ for particularly large or unique items.
Grocery and food
Amazon offers a few different food services including Amazon Fresh and Prime Pantry. Amazon Fresh allows you to quickly pick out groceries from the online store and have them delivered. In eligible regions, any order over $35 is delivered for free. An Amazon Prime subscription is required for this service, but it comes at no additional cost.
Prime Pantry is another separate paid service designed to collect lots of little items and ship them together — useful for ingredients, food packets, single-serve pantry items, and similar orders. It works a lot like Amazon Fresh, but there’s a flat shipping fee of $6, which is waived for orders over $35 if you have Amazon Prime.
Also, Amazon now owns Whole Foods, which means you can shop Whole Foods items online from Amazon itself, and arrange for free pickup as soon as one hour after checkout (available for orders over $35). There are also delivery options for one- or two-hour deliveries, but this is only for current Prime shoppers and others available for invitation only.
Walmart, on the other hand, offers a grocery pickup service that’s entirely free. There are no subscription costs, but you do have to pick up your groceries curbside after you order from the online site. You can search through and order pretty much anything you want, confirm a nearby store, and arrange a time slot for pickup. If you really need delivery, Walmart offers two-hour delivery options but with a variety of fees attached (and the company is currently partnering with Instacart to expand these options). However, you can waive delivery fees if you sign up for Walmart+. Walmart+ also lets you shop in-store using your phone so you don’t have to wait in the checkout line.
The two services are the most popular grocery services in the country and remain in very close competition. Recently, Walmart broke a bit ahead of Amazon in online grocery growth for the first time, which is a good sign for the current trajectory of the service.
MoneyWise studied identical items across several product categories in 2020, and the result showed that on average, items were 10.37% cheaper if purchased from Walmart instead of Amazon. However, there is variance across different product categories. For food and beverages, Amazon was actually slightly cheaper, while for kitchen appliances, Walmart was significantly more affordable.
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.
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.
While Walmart has a wide selection, Amazon has just about everything your heart could desire — virtually every size, color, shape, and brand. The company also offers a growing number of low-cost supplies and everyday electronics with its AmazonBasics line — a great option for saving more money while stocking up on common goods.
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. However, the company’s online store remains a bit clunky and uninformative compared to Amazon — although the company has made strides here, and we particularly like the layout of the Walmart grocery site.
Amazon’s third-party marketplace, however, is extremely well established and streamlined after years of improvements, making it easy for shoppers to navigate and choose their preferred buying options at top speeds. Amazon is also famous for its vast number of third-party sellers that have set up shop on the site and offer goods through Amazon’s fulfillment services, which is why more than 50% of sales through Amazon technically come from third parties.
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 to 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.
Although both retailers have solid return policies, Amazon’s return policy feels more cohesive overall.
Overall winner: Amazon
Being a Walmart online customer means getting low prices, not having to pay 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 feel 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.
If you want to know more, you can also check out our guide on what Amazon Prime Now is.
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