Another week has gone by, and there’s still no sign of a critical date being set in Amazon’s and Walmart’s battle for Prime customers, in another key avenue to claiming the whole U.S. paycheck. Amazon could have made the announcement of a date for Prime Day during its earnings call on July 30, but did not. And reports surfaced this week that Walmart was also getting shy about its Amazon Prime competitor, called Walmart+.
The Walmart service, which will cost $98 a year, will include same-day delivery for grocery and general merchandise, as well as discounts and early access to exclusive deals. According to Vox Media’s Recode, Walmart is close to unveiling the service, but it’s unclear whether the retailer has set a new deadline for the subscription program. Other questions remain, including whether the program will be unveiled nationwide or with a more localized rollout.
Walmart could be waiting for its Aug. 16 earnings to make an announcement, or it could be waiting for Amazon to blink first. One thing is certain: It’s much harder for Walmart to be ready for a major rollout that involves grocery delivery than it is for Amazon to set and execute on a Prime Day date – especially during a pandemic.
But there’s another element that came up during the Amazon earnings report that could be exposing a weak link in the Walmart plan: streaming video.
For the $119 annual subscription charge, Amazon Prime includes Prime Video. On the earnings call, it said its share of streaming video on-demand subscribers in the United States spiked during Q2. However, according to Kantar's Entertainment On-Demand service, it’s even more powerful a draw than originally thought.
Netflix continues to be the most popular streaming service, while Disney+ growth is showing signs of easing off after a hot launch period. Comparing the Amazon numbers to overall streaming service market share, Kantar says new subscriptions in Q2 actually did not spike as much during the pandemic as other at-home providers.
During Q2, 9.1 percent of U.S. households added a new subscription service, roughly the same as Q1. Forty-four percent of new subscriptions were stacked, taken by households that already had existing subscriptions. Amazon’s Prime Video took the top spot among new subscriptions, with 23 percent share in the quarter, up from 14 percent in the first quarter, as Disney+ share fell back sharply after a period of rapid expansion. With no entertainment property to counter with, Walmart will need to make sure the $98 per year is a worthwhile expenditure.
Is India’s Prime Day a Test Case?
As Amazon continues to keep its Prime Day cards close, its decision to launch the event in India has come under scrutiny. Amazon’s Prime Day sale in India launched Thursday (Aug. 6) and runs through Friday after being delayed due to the pandemic. The company has partnered with India’s HDFC Bank to offer its cardholders a 10 percent instant discount when consumers make purchases worth at least Rs 5,000. Amazon is also offering substantial discounts on smartphones, home appliances, smart gadgets and many other product categories, according to The Indian Express.
Bloomberg has called India’s Prime Day a test case. If that’s the case, it’s likely that the company will make a call on the U.S. Prime Day (if it happens) over the next two weeks. Based on global coverage of India’s event, it has become evident that employee safety has as much to do with Prime Day as the revenue it will generate. The Indian operation is being run from a virtual operations room with employees coordinating the sales from their homes. Strict hygiene requirements have been implemented for the company’s packers, sorters and delivery personnel.
“After a lot of conversations, we decided to go ahead with Prime Day,” Akshay Sahi, head of Prime at Amazon India, told Bloomberg. “Life has to go on. Sellers have to get back on their feet.”
“That Amazon is holding its 48-hour sale despite the pandemic underscores the intense competition in the country’s online retail sector,” says Bloomberg. “The Seattle-based retailer is fighting giant rival Walmart Inc.-owned Flipkart as well as the powerful Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd., whose Jio Platforms launched its grocery delivery service in 200 cities and is fast expanding into categories like electronics and apparel. Flipkart has announced its own Big Savings Day, clashing with its rival’s dates. The sales events have overlapped for years, vying for the attention of both shoppers and sellers listing on their platforms,” the report noted.
Walmart, Shopify Partnership Pays Fast Dividends
When it announced its partnership with Shopify in mid-June, Walmart claimed the venture would help its own Marketplace as much as it would help the SMBs that would now have access to the mega-retailer’s traffic. It was also hailed as a hedge against Amazon’s runaway marketplace growth. Six weeks into the Shopify partnership, it looks like it is succeeding beyond any expectations.
According to a report issued last week by independent research firm Marketplace Pulse, Walmart’s marketplace has exceeded 50,000 sellers, doubling its roster from July 2019. The retailer’s partnership with Shopify has fast-tracked its growth, attracting another 5,000 new sellers since the announcement.
According to Marketplace Pulse, in 2020 so far, more than 15,000 new sellers joined the platform. At the start of the year, it was adding 1,400 sellers a month. By April, as the pandemic set in, that number had grown to 2,300. Following the Shopify pair-up, it added more than 3,000 sellers in June and is on target to exceed 3,600 in July.
“Growing our Marketplace is a strategic priority, and we are going to be smart as we grow. We will start integrating new sellers now and expect to add 1,200 Shopify sellers this year,” said Jeff Clementz, vice president of Walmart Marketplace, when announcing the Shopify partnership. It’s safe to say his goal has been achieved. While Shopify stores weren’t the only sellers added recently, they were a significant part of the count.
“The reach provided by Amazon and Walmart has long been coveted by smaller retailers,” said Tim Breslin, CTO of O3 World in Retail Customer Experience. “It makes the most sense for businesses that sell custom products that are not available anywhere else to use these larger eCommerce companies as a platform to sell their products. For these companies, having access to Walmart's huge customer base is a win-win-win. They get unprecedented access, while the customer gets to purchase from a trusted retailer, and Walmart takes a bite out of the transaction while branding the purchase and building loyalty.”