Online stakes get higher as holidays approach

Walmart and Target have been working overtime to catch up with Amazon’s fulfillment capabilities.

Now, just in time for the holidays, the two leading national discount chains have expanded their free two-day shipping offers and are adding additional inducements for their online customers.

For Walmart, the focus is on its vast marketplace of third-party sellers. According to Scott Hilton, chief revenue officer of the retailer’s U.S. e-commerce operation, the company will add millions of marketplace items in the coming months to its two-day free shipping offer. The program, launched in February 2017, requires no membership fee, although there is a purchase minimum of $35 to qualify.

See: Walmart One-Ups Amazon With Free 2-Day Shipping

Walmart is also making it easier to return eligible marketplace purchases. Under a new feature rolling out now, customers can print out a return label and ship the item back to the seller for a refund. And, beginning in mid-November, shoppers can also bring their boxed returns to the service desk of any Walmart store for shipping to the seller. Marketplace returns incur a fee that varies by product and seller.

“We’re confident that with these new changes to our marketplace, holiday shopping will be that much easier,” Hilton said in a corporate blog.

Walmart shoppers will soon be able to ship their marketplace returns from stores.

Walmart shoppers will soon be able to ship their marketplace returns from stores.

Target, in turn, has removed the minimum purchase requirement for free two-day no-fee shipping during the holiday season, a first for the chain. Target’s free-shipping program extends to hundreds of thousands (versus millions) of items, and would otherwise require a $35 minimum purchase or payment with the company’s private-label credit card to qualify. The no-minimum offer begins Nov. 1 and will continue through Dec. 22.

In addition, Target has expanded its same-day delivery program to hundreds of markets across 46 states, and to more than 55,000 eligible items. Fulfillment is through Shipt, an Alabama-based grocery delivery business that Target purchased earlier this year for $550 million. The subsidiary uses a nationwide network of shoppers who retrieve online orders from customers’ nearest Target stores and deliver them to their doors.

See: Target To Offer Same-Day Delivery

Target is also extending its curbside pick-up service for app-placed orders to nearly 1,000 stores by next week. Under the Drive Up program, orders are ready within an hour and are brought out to customers’ cars within two minutes of their arrival, Target said. More than 250,000 items are eligible for the program. The same products can also be purchased online and picked up in-store usually within an hour.

Target customers can soon retrieve their online orders at nearly 1,000 stores without leaving their cars.

Target customers can soon retrieve their online orders at nearly 1,000 stores without leaving their cars.

In addition, customers in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., can shop in-store at select locations and have their purchases delivered to their homes within the same day for a flat fee of $7.

The programs demonstrate how brick-and-mortar retailers can leverage their stores — once seen as albatrosses in the Internet age — to complement and enhance online sales.

“When you combine these services with our incredible assortment of exclusive brands, everyday low prices and skilled team, I’m confident Target will be America’s easiest and most enjoyable place to shop for the holidays and beyond,” said Target CEO (and former Sam’s Club chief) Brian Cornell.

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