Amazon has long wooed customers with an expansive selection, low prices, and free two-day shipping for Prime members. By all accounts it's a winning formula: The site accounted for a staggering 43 percent of U.S. retail sales last year, according to research firm Slice Intelligence.
But Walmart is making a major play for a slice of the Amazon pie, introducing free two-day shipping earlier this year on millions of items, no membership necessary. Last year, it paid more than $3 billion for Jet.com, which launched in 2015 with the express aim of nabbing some of Amazon's staggering revenue.
So, where should consumers be spending their e-commerce dollars: Amazon, Walmart, or Jet? Cheapism.com compared prices on 75 items across three areas -- household staples, health and beauty, and baby and pet -- to find out.
Amazon comes out on top.
Amazon was the winner in our price comparison, but not by as much as online shoppers might expect. Here are the highlights:
- Amazon had the lowest prices overall, beating Walmart and Jet by a little over 5 percent across all three areas. The total tab was $813.39, compared with $859.26 and $859.47, respectively.
- Amazon had the lowest total by far in health and beauty, $265.59. It beat both Walmart and Jet by about 12 percent.
- Amazon was also cheapest in baby and pet, at $327.49. But the margins were slimmer: 2.3 percent over Walmart and 4.3 percent over Jet.
- Jet squeaked out a win in household goods with a total of $219.51. Amazon was right on its heels at $220.31, while Walmart came in at $226.71, 3.3 percent higher than Jet.
- Amazon had the lowest prices on 14 items. Walmart was cheapest on 12 items, and Jet was lowest on five.
- Price matching is aggressive, particularly between Amazon and Walmart, which had the same prices on 22 products -- nearly a third of the list. All three retailers had the same price on 15 products.
While Amazon's 5 percent price edge may not seem like a huge margin, we looked at products most households will order several times throughout the year, making the savings more compelling. For instance, ordering the same health and beauty products through Amazon three times a year would add up to more than $90 in savings over Walmart and Jet -- not exactly chump change.
We didn't account for potential savings with Amazon's Subscribe & Save program, which drops prices anywhere from 5 to 15 percent for buyers willing to commit to a regular shipment. Worth it? Maybe, for products you'll reliably use, but be sure to keep an eye on Amazon's prices -- they fluctuate regularly, and subscribing does not lock them in.
Walmart.com offers a simpler shopping experience.
Related: 25 Best Finds at Walmart
Amazon may have edged out the competition in our price comparison, but there are three big reasons to shop on Walmart.com instead. First, buyers don't need to jump through as many hoops to place an order with free two-day shipping. Second, Walmart has thousands of bricks-and-mortar stores to support its e-commerce business. Finally, prices are still very low.
Walmart now offers free two-day shipping on about 2 million items. The only catch is that customers need to spend at least $35. Amazon recently lowered its free-shipping threshold to $25, but that's for standard shipping, which takes five to eight days. For free two-day shipping, you'd have to cough up $99 a year (or $10.99 a month) for a Prime membership. Also, many items we priced on Amazon are available only through Prime Pantry, which means non-Prime members can't buy them at all, and even Prime members have to select at least five pantry items to avoid a $5.99 shipping fee. Other Amazon offerings were "add-on items," which don't require a membership but are available for purchase only if your order totals at least $25.
Walmart offers the option of free pickup for many items that don't meet the $35 minimum for free shipping. Although this requires a trip to the store, shoppers can go straight to the pickup desk rather than navigate the aisles and wait in a checkout line. Some orders are available within four hours. Walmart customers can also return online purchases to a nearby store instead of paying for return shipping. Under Amazon's standard return policy, the cost of return shipping is deducted from your refund unless the return results from an Amazon error or the item qualifies for free returns.
Walmart and Amazon also aren't as far apart on price as they might appear at first glance. Once we removed four outlier products where one retailer's price was significantly higher or lower than the other two (for instance, Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips were $41.98 on Amazon versus $54.99 from Jet and $59.82 from Walmart), the gap between Amazon and Walmart narrowed to less than $4 across all three categories.
Jet.com is still worth checking.
Although it had the highest prices overall in our analysis, Jet still merits consideration. Without the four outlier products, it was only 3.1 percent more expensive than Amazon and 2.6 percent more than Walmart. It also offers free shipping for orders over $35 (often two-day, although occasionally standard shipping) without requiring any sort of membership. Jet sweetens the pot by dropping prices for customers who are willing to pay with a debit card, forgo free returns, buy in bulk, and buy certain items together.
Forgoing free returns and paying with a debit card -- an option on 28 out of the 75 products we compared -- halved Jet's original 5 percent price difference with Amazon. Forgoing free returns might not be a big deal on paper towels, but it would be riskier for purchases such as electronics or small appliances. And some people may not be comfortable using a debit card linked directly to a bank account for an online purchase.
If you go through a lot of a particular product, Jet's bulk discounts might be more compelling. For instance, an 81-count container of Tide Pods cost $19.63 in our comparison, but the price would have dropped to $19.20 each for two containers, or $18.67 for three. Jet customers can also stack the quantity discount with the price break for paying with debit and forgoing free returns. That would have made the Tide $19.45 to start and dropped the price to $19.03 each for two containers or $18.50 for three. Again, though, this option isn't always available, and sometimes Jet still can't beat its competitors. For instance, buying five 10-count packs of Ivory soap would have dropped the price from $4.29 to $4.14 each -- but the same item was still only $3.97 at Walmart.
Jet also offers harder-to-quantify discounts on items that can be packed and shipped together. For instance, buying Mr. Clean Magic Erasers together with Scotch-Brite sponges drops the price of each item a couple of pennies.
The bottom line: One size doesn't fit all.
Prices in our analysis were close enough to keep us from making a blanket recommendation, but here are a few takeaways:
- Shop on Amazon if ... you're already a Prime member. And don't forget that Prime offers additional benefits, including access to Prime Video and Prime Music, unlimited photo storage, and even same-day delivery in some areas.
- Shop on Walmart.com if ... you're thinking of joining Amazon Prime mainly for the fast shipping. As long as you spend $35 -- not a hard threshold to meet -- you can get free two-day shipping from Walmart without paying for a membership, and prices are neck-and-neck with Amazon.
- Shop on Jet.com if ... you don't mind buying in higher quantities, paying with debit, and forgoing free returns. Still, the selection isn't quite as impressive, and some shoppers may prefer a more straightforward shopping experience.
|Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponges (6 ct.)|
|Windex Multi-Surface Vinegar Cleaner (23 oz.)|
|Palmolive Original (28 oz.)|
|Mr. Clean Magic Erasers Original (8 ct.)|
|Bounce Dryer Sheets (240 ct.)|
|Energizer Max Batteries (AA, 24 ct.)|
|Liquid Plumr Professional Strength (80 oz.)|
|Air Wick Freshmatic Refills (Fresh Waters, 2-pack)|
|Quilted Northern Ultra Plush (48 double rolls)|
|Tide Pods (81 ct.)|
|Glad Press 'N' Seal (70 sq. ft.)|
|Glad OdorShield Tall Kitchen Bags (110 ct.)|
|Swiffer Wet Refills (24 ct.)|
|Cascade Complete ActionPacs (78 ct.)|
|Ziploc Sandwich Bags (90 ct.)|
|Bounty Paper Towels (6 big rolls)|
|Lysol Disinfecting Wipes (3 pack, 240 ct.)|
|Kleenex Ultra Soft Tissues (120 sheets, 3 ct.)|
|Swiffer Duster Refills (20 ct.)|
|Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Cleaning Gel (2 ct.)|
|OxiClean (156 loads)|
|Vanity Fair Napkins (400 ct.)|
|Reynolds Parchment Paper (45 sq. ft.)|
|Hefty Easy Grip Plastic Cups (50 ct., 18 oz.)|
|Febreze Extra Strength Fabric Freshener (27 oz.)|
HEALTH AND BEAUTY
|Trojan ENZ Lubricated Condoms (36 ct.)|
|Neosporin Original (1 oz.)|
|One A Day Men's Multivitamins (200 ct.)|
|Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen (3 oz., 2 ct.)|
|Chapstick Original (3 ct.)|
|Olay Total Effects 7-in-1 Moisturizer (1.7 oz.)|
|L'Oréal Paris Studio Line Mega Gel (6.8 oz.)|
|Zyrtec (70 ct.)|
|Advil (100 ct.)|
|Biotrue Contact Solution (10 oz., 2 ct.)|
|Tampax Pearl (regular, 50 ct.)|
|Band-Aid Flexible Fabric (assorted, 100 ct.)|
|Mint Listerine (1.5 L)|
|Q-Tips (1,400 ct.)|
|Degree Dry Protection (women's, 2.6 oz.)|
|Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips|
|Oral-B Glide Pro-Health Comfort Plus Floss (2 ct.)|
|Colgate Total Whitening Toothpaste (6 oz., 2 ct.)|
|Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Shampoo (25.4 oz.)|
|Ivory Bar Soap (4 oz. bars, 10 ct.)|
|Bic Silky Touch Razors (10 ct.)|
|Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Body Wash (18 oz.)|
|Softsoap Antibacterial Refill (white tea and berry, 56 oz.)|
|Purell Hand Sanitizer (67.6 oz.)|
|Vicks Dayquil/Nyquil Severe Cold & Flu Co-Pack (12 oz., 2 ct.)|
BABY AND PET
|Pedigree Adult Complete Dog Food (40 lbs.)|
|Purina Fancy Feast Cat Food (Classic Poultry and Beef, 3 oz., 24 ct.)|
|Meow Mix Original Choice (16 lbs.)|
|Purina Tidy Cats Instant Action Clumping Litter (20 lbs.)|
|Frontline Plus (small dogs, 3 doses)|
|Milkbone Treats (medium dogs, 10 lbs.)|
|Temptations MixUps Cat Treats (Surfers' Delight, 16 oz.)|
|Pampers Sensitive Wipes (576 ct.)|
|Huggies Little Movers Diapers (size 4, 112 ct.)|
|Pull-Ups Learning Designs (2T/3T boys, 74 ct.)|
|Aquaphor (14 oz.)|
|Enfamil Gentlease Infant Formula (32.2 oz.)|
|Aveeno Baby Wash (18 oz.)|
|Gerber 2nd Foods (bananas with apples and pears, 4 oz., 8 ct.)|
|Plum Organics Mighty 4 (cherry/strawberry/black bean/spinach/oat, 4 oz., 6 ct.)|
|Nuk Airflow Orthodontic Paci (2-pack, 0-6 boy)|
|Munchkin Click Lock Flexi-Straw Cup|
|Infant Tylenol (2 oz. oral suspension)|
|Playtex VentAire (6 oz. bottles, 3 ct.)|
|Playtex Drop-ins Liners (8 oz., 100 ct.)|
|Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags (100 ct.)|
|Playtex Diaper Genie Refills (720 ct.)|
|All Baby Detergent (31 loads)|
|Johnson's Baby Lotion (27 oz.)|
|Lansinoh Lanolin (1.41 oz.)|
*Prices obtained May 30-31, 2017. Items are shipped from and sold by Amazon, Walmart, and Jet, not third-party sellers.