Christmas clicks: Amazon vs. Wal-Mart
One boasts the world's biggest virtual marketplace, while the dominant brick-and-mortar retailer is coming on strong in e-commerce. Where should you shop?
Every year since 1997, I've tried to do at least some of my Christmas shopping online.
What I have found is that, in general, Amazon.com (AMZN) wins my business. I find the search process at Amazon straightforward and the deliveries efficient, and the merchandise arrives as advertised.
That said, Amazon is likely to get less of my holiday spending in the future; the online giant is being forced by more states to collect state sales taxes, and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is emerging as a credible alternative in online commerce.
Wal-Mart's Vudu operation is already a dominant seller of online video. The site has an Amazon-like look and feel. By sales volume, Vudu is nearly nine times bigger than Amazon's online video operation. As the market for on-demand movies and TV grows, Wal-Mart is going to win it.
I recently took my dear heart's Christmas list online for a little comparison shopping. Let's say you want a picture frame that's 1 foot high by 2 feet across. It should be simple, but only one store gets you directly to where you want to go from a Google link -- Amazon.
Wal-Mart's site is especially annoying in this area. Just try searching the "home" section (that's where they keep picture frames), specifying a size. You're going to see a lot of merchandise, even a lot of frames, but unless it's a standard size, it won't be what you want.
Next, we wanted to honor some deceased relatives with "flag boxes," triangular-shaped cases in which the American flag they were buried under as ex-military members can be displayed forever.
Here, Amazon works through resellers. They're good people, but their prices are high and shipping costs extra, even if you're paying $79/year for the Amazon "Prime" package.
So instead of doing the search through Google's (GOOG) search engine -- which returns a maddening number of links to retailers' home pages -- I went directly to Google Shopping. I found several options and concluded that here the advantage went to Wal-Mart; it had most of them in stock and at prices that typically were less than half of what Amazon's merchant offers.
Two tabs open
So we keep two tabs open and go through the rest of our list. Books and music are Amazon's meat, but if you're buying for Christmas, you have to take physical delivery.
For some reason, the Kindle store at Amazon won't load your gifts on Christmas Eve -- it's now or never. But as the size of your order grows, you get some interesting "add-in" offers, products from resellers with free shipping that show up only after your cart is filled with other stuff.
Wal-Mart had a few other things I wanted, and I thought, "Let's just order them for pickup." Two problems. The flag boxes they said were in stock were online only, meaning they'll cost money to ship.
Also, Wal-Mart won't let me go to my favorite store to pick up other items, because that store is technically in another town. That's OK, as it turns out its favored store is actually closer to me than my favored store, by about two miles. Who knew?
I last compared these two merchants a few years ago. Wal-Mart at that time was miles behind Amazon in all areas. Now the difference is measured in yards. And the rest of the field is fading away in the distance.
At the time of publication, the author owned shares of Google. All purchases described in this story were real.
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