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By Amarilis Yera
Updated: December 2, 2020 5:15 PM ET
Money; Courtesy of Walmart; Getty Images

Just in time for the peak of the 2020 holiday shopping season, Walmart is making it easier to get free shipping — with no minimum purchase required.

Walmart+, the company’s membership service offering fast, free delivery on groceries and other products, originally required a $35 minimum purchase for orders to qualify for free shipping. But starting this Friday, December 4, Walmart+ members receive free next-day and two-day shipping on non-grocery items purchased at Walmart.com, even if the order total is less than $35.

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Walmart’s tweak to its “Plus” delivery service may not seem like much of a game-changer. Grocery orders, which are coordinated through its stores, will still require a $35 minimum purchase for free delivery. There is also no new benefit for shoppers who top the $35 threshold on their orders, and it’s easy to spend more than that at Walmart. But the new benefit could seriously come in handy in the weeks ahead if you need to make some small purchases of holiday gifts or Christmas decorations and you’re eager to avoid shipping fees or a trip to the store.

While the removal of the minimum-purchase requirement is being introduced during the holiday season, the policy is being incorporated into Walmart+ indefinitely. Other Walmart+ benefits include 5¢-per-gallon discount on fuel at Walmart and Murphy stations, member prices at Sam’s Club fuel centers, access to Walmart’s “Scan & Go” feature (which lets you skip checkout lines as you scan and purchase items directly through your phone while shopping in Walmart stores), and free unlimited grocery deliveries — provided you spend at least $35 per order.

Walmart+ launched in September 2020 as a clear rival to Amazon Prime, the incredibly popular subscription service with perks like fast, free shipping on most Amazon purchases, as well as unlimited streaming of tons of TVs, movies, and other content. Walmart+ is the cheaper option. It costs $98 for a yearly subscription, or $12.95 per month, after a 15-day free trial. On an annual basis, that’s $21 cheaper than Amazon’s $119 fee, yet Walmart’s original $35 minimum order requirement and Prime’s extra benefits left Walmart’s service at a clear disadvantage.

The absence of that $35 purchase requirement makes Walmart+ a better value for many subscribers. It helps Walmart compete more effectively not only against Amazon, but also Target, which has its own online delivery subscription service called Shipt. At $99 for a yearly subscription, Shipt requires you spend $35 or more to get free same-day delivery from Target or other participating retailers. Meanwhile, Shipt lacks additional benefits such as the free streaming services included with Amazon Prime or special discounts on gas with Walmart+, and Shipt subscribers sometimes incur additional service fees for orders from select retailers.

Keep in mind that if you don’t really buy your groceries online, and all you really want is free shipping as long as delivery happens within a few days, you probably don’t need to pay for any shipping subscription program. Amazon, Walmart and Target all have free shipping options for non-members, although there are generally some minimum purchase requirements and possibly slower delivery times. Groceries are not included in any of these free shipping offers, either.

For example, Amazon promises free shipping with a delivery window of five to eight days for non-Prime members, provided you spend $25 or more. Both Target and Walmart offer free two-day shipping for non-subscribers who spend more than $35, and Target RedCard holders get free shipping with no minimum purchase.

In the first quarter of 2020, Walmart’s online sales in the U.S. rose more than 70%, months before the retailer launched Walmart+. Still, this leaves the retailer at a distant second to Amazon which harnessed around 39% of U.S. online sales while Walmart’s took just 5%, according to eMarketer. As another sign Walmart is pushing to improve its delivery services and win over more online shoppers, the company recently acquired the peer-to-peer delivery service JoyRun.

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