Amazon, Walmart Gear Up for Summer E-Commerce Throwdown

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It's summer, and Walmart and Amazon are celebrating by escalating their e-commerce competition.

Amazon on Thursday announced it would hold its second annual Prime Day on July 12. A shopping day for Amazon Prime members worldwide, it is billed as the biggest global Amazon event ever. The company will offer more than 100,000 bargains, with new deals popping up at five minute intervals throughout the day.

Last year's Prime Day was a bigger day for sales than the biggest Black Friday ever, up to that point, Amazon pointed out.

"We have dramatically increased the inventory behind many deals," said Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime. "In fact, in the U.S. we have nearly double the TV units compared to Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined," he said.

Amazon will offer deals in advance of July 12, noted Katherine Wilson, director of marketing insights for Clavis Insight.

E-commerce mega-sales events in the past have stretched into weeks or even months, she told the E-Commerce Times.

The company's countdown deals -- slated for July 5 through July 11 -- will include summer entertainment deals, mobile gadgets, travel products, and gear targeting foodies and outdoor living enthusiasts, the company said.

Walmart on Wednesday announced a 30-day free trial of the company's ShippingPass unlimited two-day shipping program -- likely a bid to steal some of the thunder -- and sales -- from Amazon's Prime Day.

Walmart's free trial is an extension of the two-day ShippingPass pilot program it offered earlier this year for a US$49 annual fee. That marked an improvement over the program's three-day shipping service that launched last year for a dollar more.

"Reaction from new and existing customers has been fantastic, though we can't share figures," said Walmart spokesperson Bao Nguyen.

"It's still early in the ShippingPass program, and we'll continue to test and evolve the pilot to best serve our customers," he told the E-Commerce Times. "This free 30-day trial is part of that."

Walmart's development of ShippingPass is "based on research that customers want a low-priced, unlimited free shipping program that's fast and reliable," Nguyen said. "We're learning a lot from customers during the pilot."

The program's flexibility and low cost resonate most with customers who are "shopping on Walmart.com more often to take advantage of our low prices -- especially popular pantry and household items like ketchup, paper towels and dishwasher detergent," Nguyen noted.

"However, that convenience has to deliver on the brand promise of what a customer wants and needs," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Walmart's ability to provide outstanding customer experiences through ShippingPass "will determine whether the free trial will garner loyal, repeat customers away from Amazon," Petouhoff observed.

Habits take about 21 days to form, so "the 30-day trial may be just enough time," she noted, but "perhaps 60 days would have been a better time frame. As always, the devil is in the details."

In related news, Nielsen on Wednesday announced the U.S. launch of Brandbank -- which provides trusted digital product content for e-commerce websites, mobile shopping apps, merchandising, and marketing -- and its immediate integration into Walmart's API.

Brandbank will capture, manage and distribute product content on behalf of manufacturers, adhering to Walmart's specific requirements.

That will help Walmart implement its omnichannel product content strategy and help build out its online catalog.

Walmart also has launched pilot programs to make deliveries via Uber, Lyft and Deliv.

It will offer grocery deliveries in Phoenix through Uber and in Denver through Lyft beginning in July. Walmart-owned Sam's Club earlier this year launched a pilot program to deliver general merchandise and groceries to businesses in Miami through Deliv.

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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