I ordered items online from both Amazon and Walmart to see which site does it better - and they both frustrated me

Amazon vs Walmart 1

Hollis Johnson

At the end of the day, the experiment entailed a lot of boxes.

  • Amazon and Walmart are the two largest sellers of merchandise online.
  • Amazon has been dominant, but Walmart has drastically beefed up its online offerings to compete.
  • I tested both of them head-to-head to see which one does e-commerce better now. It was difficult to come to a conclusion.

Amazon versus Walmart is the story of our time - at least when it comes to shopping online.

As more and more customers move online, retailers are racing to convince them to shop on their website over a competitor's. The two companies that have captured many of those customers are Amazon, and, to a smaller extent, Walmart. It seems on the surface level that the two retailers' offerings now might be equal in terms of price and convenience.Advertisement

Walmart stumbled slightly in its quest for online dominance in its most recent quarter, falling to 23% online sales growth from 50% in the previous quarter. Amazon, on the other hand, had a record-setting holiday season, and analysts estimate that it took nearly half of all online sales.

There was only one thing I could do: put them both to the test.

I ordered a handful of items from each retailer, matching the SKU as well as I could. Then it was time to sit back and watch the orders roll in, making sure to log every email correspondence and message from the companies.
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What I found was that while the two services are not exact copies of each other, they're basically equal. I had quibbles with both, and I found there's definitely room for improvement and innovation in the e-commerce space. Keep reading for my full experience:

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I started my quest on Walmart.com, where I was sure to find everything I needed to meet a few specific goals I had in mind.

I started my quest on Walmart.com, where I was sure to find everything I needed to meet a few specific goals I had in mind.

A list of departments and a search bar helped me find everything I needed. Seasonal call-outs, for example to "stretch your tax refund," were cute, but not necessarily helpful since I already knew what I was looking for.

A list of departments and a search bar helped me find everything I needed. Seasonal call-outs, for example to "stretch your tax refund," were cute, but not necessarily helpful since I already knew what I was looking for.
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I wanted something sweet, and these Reese's Eggs fit the bill perfectly. They would be even cheaper if bought in-store, but I don't have a local Walmart store. Alas.

I wanted something sweet, and these Reese's Eggs fit the bill perfectly. They would be even cheaper if bought in-store, but I don't have a local Walmart store. Alas.

I decided to add a very cheap ethernet cable, as you never know when you'll need one of those.

I decided to add a very cheap ethernet cable, as you never know when you'll need one of those.
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I added a Blu-ray for a movie I had no intention of watching, and that bumped me over Walmart's $35 threshold for free two-day shipping. Woohoo. For some reason, the cable that would be shipped by Walmart would not be in for a week, though. I also added a hair product, all of which was easy to find.

I added a Blu-ray for a movie I had no intention of watching, and that bumped me over Walmart's $35 threshold for free two-day shipping. Woohoo. For some reason, the cable that would be shipped by Walmart would not be in for a week, though. I also added a hair product, all of which was easy to find.

Entering in my address and payment information was straightforward ...

Entering in my address and payment information was straightforward ...
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... and getting to the "success" screen was super simple.

... and getting to the "success" screen was super simple.

Now, on to Amazon, what many consider the front page of the retail internet.

Now, on to Amazon, what many consider the front page of the retail internet.
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My goal was to order the same items from every website, and I easily found the Blu-ray. It was just about the same price as it was on Walmart. It wasn't sold by Walmart, but it was fulfilled by the company, which served my purposes.

My goal was to order the same items from every website, and I easily found the Blu-ray. It was just about the same price as it was on Walmart. It wasn't sold by Walmart, but it was fulfilled by the company, which served my purposes.

I immediately ran into problems when I tried to add the same bag of Reese's Eggs to my cart. There were a lot of options, and the one I wanted was not immediately apparent.

I immediately ran into problems when I tried to add the same bag of Reese's Eggs to my cart. There were a lot of options, and the one I wanted was not immediately apparent.
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There it was — but it was being sold by a third party for a lot more than it cost on Walmart.com. It may be sold by others, but since this one was Prime-eligible, that's the one I was shown first. I went for it anyway because I needed this exact size.

There it was — but it was being sold by a third party for a lot more than it cost on Walmart.com. It may be sold by others, but since this one was Prime-eligible, that's the one I was shown first. I went for it anyway because I needed this exact size.

Amazon provides this helpful disclaimer on such goods.

Amazon provides this helpful disclaimer on such goods.
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I ran into the same issue with the hair product that I wanted to buy, where there was a wide variety of options in different sizes and at different prices.

I ran into the same issue with the hair product that I wanted to buy, where there was a wide variety of options in different sizes and at different prices.

I picked the one labeled "Amazon's Choice," which was the cheapest but had the drawback of being an "add-on" item.

I picked the one labeled "Amazon's Choice," which was the cheapest but had the drawback of being an "add-on" item.
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Add-on items are cheap, small items that Amazon probably wouldn't make any money off of if it sold them on their own. Even Prime members must abide by the rule that add-on items will only ship with orders of at least $25.

Add-on items are cheap, small items that Amazon probably wouldn't make any money off of if it sold them on their own. Even Prime members must abide by the rule that add-on items will only ship with orders of at least $25.

I also had to reject the subscription that Amazon offers for consumable items. I could have saved money by asking Amazon to send me the same product routinely, but that wasn't what I was after here.

I also had to reject the subscription that Amazon offers for consumable items. I could have saved money by asking Amazon to send me the same product routinely, but that wasn't what I was after here.
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A new feature to Amazon is this sidebar that keeps your cart total and list of items in view.

A new feature to Amazon is this sidebar that keeps your cart total and list of items in view.

I tried to find a similar cable to the one I ordered from Walmart. It wasn't possible, so I just decided to order a random coax cable for variety.

I tried to find a similar cable to the one I ordered from Walmart. It wasn't possible, so I just decided to order a random coax cable for variety.
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Finally, I was ready to check out.

Finally, I was ready to check out.

I was given a ton of shipping options. I'm a Prime member, so I was expecting two-day delivery. But I could also have chosen a more environmentally friendly option of fewer packages, or "no rush" shipping.

I was given a ton of shipping options. I'm a Prime member, so I was expecting two-day delivery. But I could also have chosen a more environmentally friendly option of fewer packages, or "no rush" shipping.
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That last option would have given me a $1 credit to a digital-media purchase. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to sway me.

That last option would have given me a $1 credit to a digital-media purchase. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to sway me.

Even though I ordered everything at the same time, they still had different guaranteed delivery dates.

Even though I ordered everything at the same time, they still had different guaranteed delivery dates.
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I was feeling good, excited to get my orders and compare the services. But fate had other plans, and my ethernet cable from Walmart was unceremoniously canceled the day after I placed my order. There was no reason specified, just "We're sorry it didn't work out." Yeah, me too!

I was feeling good, excited to get my orders and compare the services. But fate had other plans, and my ethernet cable from Walmart was unceremoniously canceled the day after I placed my order. There was no reason specified, just "We're sorry it didn't work out." Yeah, me too!

I got a different message from Amazon the next day, saying that the package actually wouldn't arrive on the day of "guaranteed delivery." Um, ok. I guess.

I got a different message from Amazon the next day, saying that the package actually wouldn't arrive on the day of "guaranteed delivery." Um, ok. I guess.
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I got another email from Amazon the next day, explaining that "due to a shipping error," the package wouldn't be able to be tracked. No other information was given, and the email was quite mysterious.

I got another email from Amazon the next day, explaining that "due to a shipping error," the package wouldn't be able to be tracked. No other information was given, and the email was quite mysterious.

The same day, I got a message that my packages started arriving.

The same day, I got a message that my packages started arriving.
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One of Walmart's packages arrived first.

One of Walmart's packages arrived first.

Inside were my Reese's Eggs, tucked in safe and sound. But that's the only thing in the box.

Inside were my Reese's Eggs, tucked in safe and sound. But that's the only thing in the box.
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Later that day, the bulk of my shipments came.

Later that day, the bulk of my shipments came.

Inside the box was most of my Amazon shipment. It came on March 1, the only day Amazon said the shipment definitely wouldn't come. It fulfilled its original promise, but with a ton of confusing messaging along the way.

Inside the box was most of my Amazon shipment. It came on March 1, the only day Amazon said the shipment definitely wouldn't come. It fulfilled its original promise, but with a ton of confusing messaging along the way.
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The items were just kind of thrown in the box, with nothing to stop them from bouncing around. The Reese's were a little smushed (but still delicious). Another thing Amazon does is put stickers on each item to identify them in warehouses, which is usually fine, but can be annoying depending on the product.

The items were just kind of thrown in the box, with nothing to stop them from bouncing around. The Reese's were a little smushed (but still delicious). Another thing Amazon does is put stickers on each item to identify them in warehouses, which is usually fine, but can be annoying depending on the product.

The DVD also came in one of Amazon's classic yellow envelopes.

The DVD also came in one of Amazon's classic yellow envelopes.
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Pretty standard. The DVD was mostly fine, but it was a little worn around the edges of the cardboard case.

Pretty standard. The DVD was mostly fine, but it was a little worn around the edges of the cardboard case.

Walmart sent a single hair product in the other box — alone, with a bunch of air pockets.

Walmart sent a single hair product in the other box — alone, with a bunch of air pockets.
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It was also wrapped and sealed in a bag to prevent leaking. There was nothing else in the box for it to actually leak on to, but I appreciated the effort.

It was also wrapped and sealed in a bag to prevent leaking. There was nothing else in the box for it to actually leak on to, but I appreciated the effort.

The next day, the final item of my two orders came: the Blu-ray from Walmart.

The next day, the final item of my two orders came: the Blu-ray from Walmart.
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The Blu-ray came in a strange package that molded to the shape of the disk's case, which protected it from any harm but was kind of difficult to pry free.

The Blu-ray came in a strange package that molded to the shape of the disk's case, which protected it from any harm but was kind of difficult to pry free.

So what did I learn? In the end, I was confused, but satisfied, and practically buried in Reese's Eggs.

So what did I learn? In the end, I was confused, but satisfied, and practically buried in Reese's Eggs.

There aren't a whole lot of difference between the two services at this point. Walmart tended to ship faster and in more boxes, while Amazon shipped in fewer packages but with support emails I still can't make heads or tails of. Walmart tended to package things better, but I didn't like how they canceled my order without warning.

Amazon has an enormous selection, but that can be confusing and overwhelming. Walmart is simpler, but that also means there are fewer options.

One major caveat: the two orders arrived roughly at the same time, but I only got the 2-day shipping from Amazon becuase I was a Prime member. That's a point in favor of Walmart, at least if you mostly have orders that total over $35.

Ultimately, for most customers it will come down to which company is offering the best combination of price and convenience. That war is still being fought.

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