Walmart introduces Walmart Plus, a new membership program for $98 a year - CNET

A truck hauling Walmart merchandise down the highway near Fredericksburg, Texas. Getty Images Walmart has see

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A truck hauling Walmart merchandise down the highway near Fredericksburg, Texas.

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Walmart has seen its e-commerce business grow enormously during the coronavirus pandemic, as millions of people have avoided venturing into stores. The big-box retailer is now doubling down on its ambitious e-retail goals to help it keep expanding online and help shoppers get digital orders faster.

Walmart on Monday said it's building out its e-commerce membership program to include more items and more perks, like shipping as fast as same-day and a cashierless checkout feature in the Walmart app. The program, previously called Delivery Unlimited and focused on groceries, will be renamed Walmart Plus and add many items you'd find in a Walmart store, including toys, electronics and household essentials like cleaners and toothpaste.

All Delivery Unlimited customers will be changed over to the new program, which will have the same pricing at $98 a year or $12.95 a month. Walmart Plus, which was expected to launch earlier this year, will be available across the US on Sept. 15.

"We've designed this program as the ultimate life hack," Janey Whiteside, Walmart's chief customer officer, said during a press call Monday.

This bolstered membership program should help Walmart continue its fast growth in e-commerce, where it's already become the second biggest online seller in the US but remains well behind Amazon. Earlier this month, Walmart said its e-commerce sales nearly doubled in its latest quarter, as more customers used curbside pickup and other online services. While these are obvious positives for the company as it's spent billions of dollars pushing into e-commerce, Walmart Plus should face tough comparisons with Amazon Prime, which has over 150 million users and a much longer list of benefits, including the Prime Video library, Prime Now rapid-delivery program and Amazon Fresh grocery deliveries.

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"We're not launching Walmart Plus with the intent to compete with anything else," Whiteside said when asked about Prime. "We're launching it to meet the needs of our customers."

This is also not the first push Walmart has made into a membership program, having run the now discontinued ShippingPass and Jetblack programs. Delivery Unlimited was also widely expanded last fall. Whiteside said Walmart has learned a lot from those past programs and used the best parts of them for Walmart Plus.

The perks will include faster shipping, with deliveries for members of 160,000 items arriving as fast as same-day at no additional cost. Orders must be at least $35, the same minimum as with Delivery Unlimited. Non-members currently get free two-day deliveries for millions of items on orders of $35 or more. Free same-day delivery for non-members is also available but only in specific zip codes.

In-store shoppers will have access to a "Scan & Go" feature that lets them scan items with their phones and pay for them using Walmart Pay, allowing them to avoid the checkout line. Walmart was testing out a similar cashierless technology in a Sam's Club store since 2018. These kinds of contactless payments are especially useful during the pandemic to help customers avoid touching payment terminals and other shared surfaces.

Added to that, Walmart is offering a fuel discount of up to 5 cents a gallon at about 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express fuel locations. Sam's Club stations will be added to that list soon.

Whiteside said more benefits will be coming to Walmart Plus, though avoided offering any specifics. She added the program was designed specifically for the US market, and declined to say if there are any plans to expand it internationally.
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