Walmart.com to offer free holiday shipping

Laptop with Wal-Mart logo.

Shoppers who buy gifts on Wal-Mart's website, Walmart.com, won't have to pay a dime for shipping this holiday season, the retailer announced today.

Wal-Mart is following in the footsteps of many competitors, including Amazon.com, Borders, and L.L. Bean, hoping to boost online sales.

When Wal-Mart, which has thousands of brick-and-mortar stores around the world, decides to focus on its website, or trade bricks for clicks, it wants to make sure it doesn't lose out on impulse purchases.

Candace Corlett, the president of WSL Strategic Retail, says companies want online shoppers to linger in their virtual aisles.

"We are getting to the point where browsing on the store's website is something that's as common as browsing the aisles when you're in the physical store," she said.

Sites highlight current sales and discounts, and they showcase what other customers have purchased.

According to Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president of Forrester Research, the key to every one of these recommendations is data.

Online retailers keep track of what consumers look at, how long they spend on each page, and what goes into their shopping carts. Then, they sift through all that information, to improve their ability to predict what someone might buy.

"They all have kind of their army of PhDs who are there, helping them make the most of the traffic on their websites," Mulpuru said.

A company like Amazon.com, which has been at the online retail game since 1995, and also offers free shipping during the holiday season, has amassed tons of valuable information over the last fifteen years.

Wal-Mart, which opened Walmart.com in 2000, is playing catch-up. With free shipping now, it is trying to take some of Amazon.com's market share, and it's hoping to learn more about how people shop.

TEXT OF THE STORY

BOB MOON: Attention Wal-Mart shoppers: Those who buy gifts on its website won't have to pay a dime for shipping this holiday season. It's following in the footsteps of competitors like Amazon.com, Borders and Target, hoping it can boost online sales.

But when a retailer like Wal-Mart, with thousands of big box stores, decides to trade bricks for clicks, will it loose out on impulse purchases? As Marketplace David Gura reports, online retailers want consumers to browse virtual items.

DAVID GURA: Something happens when you go inside an actual Wal-Mart that usually doesn't happen when you shop online.

SUCHARITA MULPURU: People will go to a store for one or two items, and they'll pick up ten items along the way.

GURA: Sucharita Mulpuru is with Forrester Research.

A Wal-Mart, or a Best Buy, or a Barnes and Noble is full of stuff. And stores have gimmicks to get you to buy it. Big signs, product displays, two-for-one deals.

Analyst Candace Corlett says online retailers are trying to be just as browser-friendly. Or, just as dangerous to the impulsive consumer.

CORLETT: Will the basket be as large as if a shopper were to go in the store? Maybe not. But we are getting to the point where browsing on the store's website is something that's as common as browsing the aisles when you're in the physical store.

GURA: Websites give you suggestions.

CORLETT: Here's what you bought last time. Here's what's on sale now. Here's what people who bought what you bought have also bought.

GURA: And Sucharita Mulpuru says the key to every one of those recommendations is data. Sites keep track of what you look at, how long you spend on each page, and what you've purchased.

SUCHARITA MULPURU: They all have kind of their army of PhDs who are there, helping them make the most of the traffic that they have on their websites.

GURA: A company like Amazon.com, which has been at the online retail game for a long time, has amassed tons of valuable information.

Wal-Mart is playing catch-up. With free shipping now, it's trying to take some of Amazon.com's market share. And it's hoping to learn more about how people shop.

In Washington, I'm David Gura, for Marketplace.

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