November 18, 2020

Walmart vs. Amazon: How the Giants Are Pivoting for a Unique 2020 Holiday Season

By George Hatch / Walmart.com, Amazon, Ecommerce Trends

Deck the fulfillment centers with boughs of inventory.

It’s that time of year again—2020 is (thankfully) coming to an end and the holiday season is upon us. Online marketplaces are busy preparing for increased holiday shopping demand in a year marked by a boom in online shopping and the resulting supply chain chaos.

Two of the biggest ecommerce marketplaces, Amazon and Walmart, have been focusing on spreading out holiday demand and increasing their physical capacities to fulfill orders. Let’s talk about some of the unique challenges marketplaces face this year and what Amazon and Walmart are doing to handle them.

Holiday challenges for ecommerce

Overcapacity is always a challenge for Amazon and Walmart this time of year, but we anticipate this season to be especially taxing as more people than ever shop early and online as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

Pairing this year’s supply chain challenges with record-breaking ecommerce holiday sales makes for a perfect storm. Seasonal stockouts and shipping delays, which aren’t uncommon in a typical holiday season, will likely be exacerbated this season.

Salesforce anticipates global online holiday sales to grow 30 percent year-over-year, with demand exceeding shipping capacity by 5% and up to 700 million packages potentially facing shipping delays.

We also anticipate a high rate of online returns this year, which will create even more complications for marketplaces. Amazon has announced that all purchases made between October 1 and December 31 are eligible for returns until January 31. Walmart has also expanded its return policy, with some holiday items being eligible for returns as late as February 23.

Online shoppers, who can’t try on clothes or see products in person, will likely buy several different sizes and colors and return unwanted items. It will be interesting to see how marketplaces deal with this increase in online returns, especially with seasonal items.

Amazon holiday deals, supply chain issues

Amazon’s holiday strategy started early this year—if not entirely intentionally—when it was forced to move Prime Day from July to October because of the coronavirus. Even though this decision was primarily made because of the pressure the pandemic put on Amazon’s supply chain, it had a side effect of kicking off holiday shopping one month earlier than normal.

Amazon Holiday Deals and Ecommerce Strategy | Pattern

Despite the delay, Prime Day 2020 was record-breaking. Amazon didn’t disclose total Prime Day sales, but it did announce that third-party sellers surpassed $3.5 billion, marking a 60% year-over-year increase.

This is especially noteworthy considering that Amazon primarily featured its own inventory during Prime Day, as it has done historically. The Echo Dot was the best-selling Prime Day item, Alexa-compatible devices sold in record numbers, and customers bought more Fire TVs than in any previous Prime Day.

Less than 2 days after Prime Day ended, Amazon initiated its Holiday Dash event with daily “epic deals” throughout November. By moving Prime Day to November and spreading out Black Friday deals throughout the entire month, Amazon has spread out its high holiday demand to lessen the load on its already-strained supply chain.

Although no one could’ve predicted this year’s unique challenges, Amazon has been building out its own massive logistics and delivery network for years, in part because of other carriers missing delivery estimates around the holidays. Now, the mega corporation handles more than half of its own deliveries.

In 2020, Amazon has expanded its fulfillment center square footage by 50% and hired hundreds of thousands of employees, including 100,000 seasonal employees to meet holiday demand. In the last month alone, Amazon has announced seven new fulfillment centers in the U.S.

Despite this unprecedented physical expansion, Amazon is still struggling to keep up with demand, and the holiday season will only intensify the problem.

Regardless of these challenges, Amazon will likely continue to have great holiday deals and price parity with products we see on Walmart, Target, and Best Buy.

Walmart’s holiday strategy—extended Black Friday, WFS, & more

While historically Black Friday is much bigger in-store than online, it’s likely to look quite different this year. Walmart—which is closing its stores on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 30 years—is taking the lead in representing the shift to online Black Friday shopping with its month-long Black Friday offering, “Black Friday Deals for Days.”

As part of this offering, Walmart is moving Black Friday shopping from a single day to three different events throughout the month of November, creating something of a Black Friday experience. The deals will start online at Walmart.com and continue into stores a few days later with new deals for brick-and-mortar buyers.

Walmart Holiday Deals for 2020 and Ecommerce Strategy | Pattern

This approach will reduce Walmart in-store traffic, addressing the concern of keeping both employees and customers safe in its 4,700 U.S. stores during the biggest and most exciting shopping event of the year. Like Amazon’s Holiday Dash event, this month-long event will also spread out holiday demand to make it easier to keep up with.

Similarly to Amazon, Walmart 1P, or Walmart-owned inventory, is facing increased constraints and will have more seasonal stock-outs than usual this year. In response, Walmart is rapidly growing the marketplace side of its business so it has less owned inventory to worry about.

Walmart announced that it would be creating “pop-up Ecommerce Distribution Centers” (EDCs) within its current Regional Distribution Centers (RDCs) and is hiring more than 20,000 seasonal employees to help meet ecommerce holiday demand. RDCs typically exist to send pallets of product to Walmart stores. With the incorporation of pop-up EDCs, these distribution centers will also have the capacity to send products directly to consumers to increase fulfillment output.

Lastly, Walmart launched and is growing its Walmart Fulfillment Services, a 2-day offering that mirrors Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) functionality for third party sellers.

We expect that Walmart will see a lot of success this season by directly tying holiday shopping to the launch of its new subscription offering, Walmart+, an Amazon Prime competitor that launched in September. Walmart+ memberships include unlimited free delivery from stores and the Scan & Go tool, both of which may be appealing for holiday shoppers.

Both Amazon and Walmart are increasingly relying on third party sellers to fulfill holiday demand. Need help selling your products on their marketplaces? Contact us below.

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