Practical Ecommerce

The 2 Winners in Amazon vs. Walmart Battle

Walmart is spending heavily to enhance its ecommerce capabilities. This includes acquiring innovative ecommerce retailers and investing in technology infrastructure. Walmart's "Pickup Discount," shown above, rewards customers who buy online and pick up at a local Walmart store.

Walmart is spending heavily to enhance its ecommerce capabilities. This includes acquiring innovative ecommerce retailers and investing in technology infrastructure. Walmart’s “Pickup Discount,” shown above, rewards customers who buy online and pick up at a local Walmart store.

After an ecommerce power-up that included acquiring a string of online retailers, including, Walmart took a major swing at Amazon by offering free 2-day shipping for qualified orders of $35 or more, no special membership required. Amazon was quick to respond by lowering its free 2-day shipping threshold to $25 for non-Prime members and offering 45 percent off Prime membership for low-income shoppers.

The competition is heating up, but which company will win?

Let’s look at the numbers.

Amazon has a current market cap of $477 billion and $21.5 billion of cash on hand. Its 2016 revenue was $136 billion. Through innovation, smart business tactics, and sheer brute force it has been able to grow year after year and dominate American ecommerce. Investors and analysts seem to be betting on Amazon, pushing its share price past $1,000 for the first time in May.

Walmart, however, cannot be easily dismissed. Despite the financial and tech sector hype surrounding Amazon, Walmart is a juggernaut with a market cap of $236 billion and a physical store presence within 10 miles of 90 percent of all Americans. Its total revenue for 2016 was $482 billion, and with founder Marc Lore at the helm, Walmart’s ecommerce sales for the quarter ended April 30, 2017 grew by an an impressive 63 percent.

Walmart is therefore in a unique position to make large moves against Amazon. It has both the deep pockets and widespread profitable physical store presence to do so.

But my bet is that neither company will achieve true dominance. Instead, their clash will be long and brutal, causing huge disruption in retail.

Actions from Walmart

Let’s consider some of the actions Walmart might take against Amazon.

1. Attack free shipping. Walmart is offering discounts to customers who are willing to pick up their orders at Walmart locations. Additionally, it is taking the unprecedented step of enlisting its own store employees to drop packages off on their way home from work. These moves help mitigate the high costs of last mile delivery for Walmart and could allow it to again drop its free 2-day delivery threshold below Amazon’s current $25.

These steps hit at Amazon’s greatest weakness as an online retailer: its lack of a widespread physical presence. In addition to reducing prices and lowering 2-day shipping thresholds, Amazon will likely have to continue expanding the number of its distribution centers, pickup locations, and physical stores — this could be the logic behind its recent $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market.

2. Challenge other Prime benefits. With 49 million members spending twice as much as non-members, Prime is a major cash cow for Amazon. Prime isn’t just about retail however. The program offers a slew of other perks, including free movies, television shows, books, magazines, and music streaming. Walmart may have to offer its own version of Prime to draw these members away from Amazon.

Walmart would therefore be smart to partner with Netflix, Hulu, or HBO to offer similar entertainment perks through a revamped membership program. It could develop a cheaper program with enough additional features to entice members away from Prime.

3. Deflect Amazon’s moves into pharmaceuticals. Industry observers have been predicting Amazon moves into pharmaceuticals for a while. The healthcare industry accounts for nearly 18 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Pharmaceuticals would be a logical next step for the ecommerce giant.

To deflect this, Walmart could aggressively push its pharmaceutical weight around. It’s the fourth largest U.S. pharmacy by total revenue, with thousands of pharmacies across the U.S. Should it begin offering deeper discounts on generic drugs and ramping up its online prescription services to include same day delivery, Walmart could make it difficult for Amazon to get traction in this industry.

4. Move into tech. In the last year, Walmart has acquired, (home decor),, Moosejaw (brick-and-click retailer of outdoor recreation gear), and (women’s apparel).

As Walmart’s ecommerce portfolio expands, it will need computing infrastructure similar to Amazon’s that is automated and standardized among all of its retail businesses — essentially turning Walmart into a giant tech company. Walmart C.E.O. Doug McMillon acknowledged this reality when he recently stated, “Rapid advances in technology mean we need to become more of a digital enterprise, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Building such infrastructure would also provide Walmart with another angle to attack Amazon. Like Amazon Web Services, Walmart could lease out its cloud computing assets, using the profits to pay for the investment and, also, subsidize its retail business.

Other Retailers and Brands

The good news for the rest of the industry is that Walmart and Amazon’s battle for market share will create opportunities for other retailers and brands.

Investments made by these industry titans will likely lead to updated technology, the development of highly efficient supply chains, and a pool of expert talent familiar with it all. Smaller companies will reap the fruits of such innovations.

Additionally, lower prices and shipping thresholds will spur the growth of ecommerce as more consumers take advantage of these savings. For example, Amazon’s recent grab for Walmart’s low-income customers could introduce a new demographic to online shopping. This is good for other ecommerce companies.

In short, the two groups of winners in this clash of titans will be those brands and retailers that take advantage of the opportunities, and ecommerce consumers, who will reap the cost and timesaving benefits.

Jeremy Hanks

Jeremy Hanks

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  1. Marcia Kaplan June 20, 2017 Reply

    Good analysis Jeremy. The next year will indeed be interesting. I see more acquisitions on the horizon. Wal-Mart’s recent purchase of men’s apparel company Bonobos shows that Wal-Mart is going after upper-income consumers.

  2. Carlos Rivera June 22, 2017 Reply

    I really enjoy these ‘looking into the future’ articles. Spot on, Jeremey, I learned a lot. Thanks!

  3. Amory Booker June 22, 2017 Reply

    Let’s face it, Amazon ecommerce business doesn’t really make money. Amazon Web Services is carrying the bulk of the companies profits at this point. However Google, Microsoft and Nvidia are joining the cloud business and now that areas of Amazon will more likely start to drop off as well. They will have to discount this service in order to keep customers.

    Second, You tout Amazon Prime as being a cash cow for Amazon. However, an article on Recode back in Feb. of 2017 shows that Amazon for the first time since 2013 did not release prime numbers….why? Probably because people are leaving. I did, just like I left cable tv. When I realized Amazon is not the best option for buying or watching new content. Consumers are starting to get wiser and using the web as it was intended. More often times than not Amazon prices are out of whack with other web pricing. This is partly because they need to make up for the lost shipping revenue.

    Third, Amazon eventually is going to be taken to court for black market selling. There are a lot of unauthorized vendors on Amazon who sell products such as Mary Kay, that should only be sold through a distributor that Amazon allows to sell on their site…which makes them complicit in this illegal activity.

    Lastly, Amazon’s business is under attack from many flanks, because their business is diversified their business may not be able to withstand these attacks in the long run. I am a e-tailer and more and more companies ask up front. Do you sell on Amazon or any third party website? They don’t like the stigma of their brand be on Amazon. So unless a company wants to cheapen their brand and a retailer wants to be seen as a discount brand, then yes, they will benefit with partnering. So clearly there is really only one winner, and that winner is WalMart…not the consumer not Amazon.

  4. Robin June 22, 2017 Reply

    Walmart has won as far as I’m concerned.
    To me, Amazon is turning itself into an elite members only club. I refuse to buy a Prime Membership just to shop there.
    Amazon is a major pain in the a** to order from.

    1) I am never sure whom I am buying from. Then I have to take the time to read the seller ratings.
    2) The rating system is a mess; they lump all sellers together, never sure what rating is for which seller.
    3) I cannot always order what I want. You want this small item, sorry it is an Add-on Product, spend at least $25 on other things first.
    4) I am locked out from buying some items. Sorry, this item is for Amazon Prime Pantry members only.
    5) Many times I can find the product cheaper somewhere else.
    6) If you leave a product in you shopping cart and come back the next time they may have raised the price.
    7) The shipping for non-Prime is agonizing slow and I am pretty sure they are deliberately slowing it down on purpose. My last order take 11 days to be delivered, even though it was in stock and fulfilled by Amazon. The order before that took 10 days, also fulfilled by Amazon. In contrast, if I order straight from vendor fulfilled it usually takes less than 5 days.
    8) It is so time consuming and frustrating to order from Amazon I order less and less every year. In fact, last week I bought a hard drive from Amazon just to wipe out my Amazon gift card balance so I can be done with them. I could have bought the hard drive cheaper somewhere else.

    I’ve been ordering more and more from Walmart:
    1) The prices are usually cheaper or are evenly matched with Amazon.
    2) If it is in stock, I can order it, no restrictions.
    3) Shipping is fast, even with items that aren’t marked for 2 day shipping, I’ve been receiving many of them in 3 days or less.
    4) Even though there are third-party sellers on Walmart, they have their own listing, so their is no confusion on who is selling what.
    5) In short, it takes me a lot less time and it is easier to order on Walmart, plus I usually get the product cheaper and faster.
    6) I haven’t even used the discount for pickup option yet, but it is a nice option.