I ordered the same items from Amazon and Walmart to see which site does it better — and they both had major flaws

Hollis JohnsonAt 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 their shopping online, retailers are racing to convince them to buy from their website instead of 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.

While Walmart stumbled slightly in its quest for online dominance in the fourth quarter last year, it made a slight comeback in its most recent quarter, reporting 33% online sales growth year over year. Amazon, on the other hand, had a record-setting holiday season, and analysts estimate that it took nearly half of all online sales. Its sales grew 39% year over year in the most recent quarter.

Keeping that in mind, there was only one thing I could do: put both retailers’ e-commerce offerings 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.

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:


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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I added a Blu-ray for a movie I had no intention of watching, and that bumped me over Walmart’s $US35 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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Entering in my address and payment information was straightforward …

Business Insider/Dennis Green

… and getting to the “success” screen was super simple.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Amazon provides this helpful disclaimer on such goods.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

I picked the one labelled “Amazon’s Choice,” which was the cheapest but had the drawback of being an “add-on” item.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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 $US25.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Finally, I was ready to check out.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

That last option would have given me a $US1 credit to a digital-media purchase. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to sway me.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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!

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

One of Walmart’s packages arrived first.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

Later that day, the bulk of my shipments came.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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.

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Business Insider/Dennis Green

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

Hollis Johnson

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 because I was a Prime member. That’s a point in favour of Walmart, at least if you mostly have orders that total over $US35.

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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