Two (or More) Can Play at Prime Day

In announcing that Walmart.com would drop its minimum order for free shipping to $35 from $50 until further notice, President and CEO Fernando Madeira made no bones about what prompted the move in a blog he posted the other day. “We’ve heard some retailers are charging $100 to get access to a sale. But the idea of asking customers to pay extra in order to save money just doesn’t add up for us,” Madeira wrote, referring to the fact that only Amazon Prime members can take part in today’s Prime Day sale.

Amazon, the online behemoth with enough swagger to stage its own retail day along the lines of Black Friday, had roused another lumbering retail giant. “Walmart fired a shot across Amazon’s bow,” said Robert Persuit, director of business development for ShipMatrix, a package tracker for large retailers. “Amazon could do this because it could strategically place large quantities of a limited number of sale items throughout its 75 or so distribution centers. Walmart came back and said, hey, we can roll back prices for 90 days and fulfill them through our thousands of retail locations.”

eBay joined in the fun with a 30-day-long Summer Savings Spree that kicked off Monday offering free shipping and up to 60% off electronics, sporting goods, and home and garden items. Sears initiated Midweek Markdowns with free shipping on $59 or more. But it’s Amazon and Walmart that are duking it out for real today.

The biggest online and offline retailers are employing like-appearing, but different, online merchandising strategies. Both are lining up mixed category offers on deal pages and the discount levels are similar, but Walmart is showing customers dollars-off while Amazon is promoting the percentage of savings. Amazon’s strategy is more gamified, segmenting “Top Prime-Exclusive Lightning Deals” with buttons that allow people to buy the item if stock levels are still high or to join a waiting list for the most popular sellers.

Though the focus of online shoppers today is likely to be on the two main combatants, the aura of Prime Day extends to all serious online sellers, according to one significant player. Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, says his company’s FreeShipping.com will be offering members 20% cash back today on every purchase they make with the 1,000-plus retailers represented on the site.

“Retailers can’t afford to sit idly by while Amazon tries to bring more online shoppers into the fold,” Caporaso says.

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