Shipping Wars: Walmart Launches Free Delivery for Sam’s Club Members

Xconomy National — 

In order to better position itself against competitors like Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ: COST) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Sam’s Club, the bulk retailer owned by Walmart (NYSE: WMT), is now offering free shipping for many items as part of a revamping of its membership programs.

With a $100 annual fee—just one dollar more than the cost of a similar Amazon membership—Sam’s Club Plus members will receive free shipping on nearly all items with no minimum purchase. Exceptions are merchandise that is only available for curbside pickup such as fresh and frozen food, bulk orders, and products sent directly to customers by a third party, according to a Fortune article.

All products made by Walmart’s private label, Member’s Mark, are eligible for free shipping. Costco sells products through Kirkland, its in-house brand.

Sam’s Club’s Plus membership joins the retailer’s new Club (formerly Sam’s Savings) membership, which now sells for $45. The Plus membership offers a variety of extra perks such as additional savings offers, cash reward points, and priority access to products. Both levels are available to individuals and businesses.

Free (or nearly free) and expedited shipping has become a ground zero of sorts for brick-and-mortar retailers as they aim to compete with e-commerce giant Amazon. On Feb. 8, Amazon began, in certain parts of the country, free two-hour delivery of products from Whole Foods market, which it bought last year. That announcement was followed by one from Target (NYSE: TGT), which said it would provide same-day delivery of its products, starting Feb. 15, through Shipt, a startup the Minneapolis-based retailer bought in December.

The Sam’s Club announcement follows other moves by Walmart that seek to bring innovative technologies and practices to the retailer, the world’s largest. Last week, Store No 8, Walmart’s in-house tech incubator, said it had purchased Spatialand, a virtual reality software firm, as its third portfolio company.

Revamped memberships seem to be the latest move in an effort by Walmart to boost its Sam’s Club franchise. Last month, the retailer abruptly closed dozens of stores.

“After a thorough review of our existing portfolio, we’ve decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy,” the company posted on Twitter at the time of the closures. “Closing clubs is never easy and we’re committed to working with impacted members and associates through this transition.”