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Shopping online, with cash

Walmart has just launched a new way to pay for your online purchases, with cash. Yup, non-futuristic, non-shiny, regular-old dollar bills.

It works like this. You go online to order something, say some towels. Then you drive to a Walmart store and pay for your towels in cash. Once you've paid, Walmart will ship the towels, right to your door. Or someone else's door if they're a gift.

Walmart spokesperson Amy Lester says the company wanted to make cash an online option because it's how a lot of its customers pay. Only about 15 percent of Walmart’s in-store purchases are paid for with credit cards. Lester says many of their customers are unbanked or underbanked, “meaning they either don't have access to a bank or they have limited banking services or they don't have credit.”

She says it'll also allow cash-customers a broader selection. “This is helpful for them because it gives them access to thousands of items online that may not be available in stores,” she says. And, I suppose, ordering and having your purchase shipped, could be easier than navigating all the aisles and people you might encounter in a regular Walmart outing.

Jeffrey Grau, an analyst at e-marketer, thinks pay-by-cash makes sense, and says it's the kind of business decision that shows just how much e-commerce is growing. “In the early days it was something that more affluent consumers partook in,” he says, “now we're seeing that more lower income consumers are shopping online.”

But, says Grau, you probably shouldn't hold your breath for every other online retailer to follow Walmart's lead here. The pay-by-cash model only works for a specific kind of store. You need a whole lot of stores, so paying is easy. And you need customers that want the option.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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