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As if promising two-day delivery wasn't enough, Amazon just raised the bar for retailers across the U.S. — chiefly Walmart and Target — to offer even faster and cheaper shipping for online purchases. Or to lean into their bricks-and-mortar stores, something Amazon can't do, even more.
The e-commerce company announced Thursday that it will be making one-day shipping the standard for all Amazon Prime members, expecting to spend $800 million during the second quarter of this year to improve its warehouses and delivery infrastructures to make this possible.
Target shares closed Friday down almost 6%. Walmart shares tumbled 2%. Amazon's stock closed the day up 2.5%.
With more than 100 million paying Prime members across the country, it's estimated Amazon reaches more than 50% of U.S. households today, and growing. And so the impact of its move toward an even speedier shipping option is going to be substantial. This means more and more consumers are going to get used to having whatever they order on the internet show up at their doorsteps in 24 hours or less. Walmart and Target are going to need to make sure they meet these changing expectations.
Already, nearly 40% of consumers want online orders to arrive in two days, free of charge, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation of about 3,000 U.S. adults from Oct. 23 through Nov. 30 of last year. Twenty-nine percent of people said they didn't complete a purchase online after finding out two-day shipping wasn't free.
"Just as Amazon did with Prime 2-day delivery 14 years ago, we see a broad-based 1-day shipping offering increasing consumer e-commerce expectations (essentially more people will get used to 1 day vs. 2 day shipping … and grow to expect 1-day shipping)," Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak said in a research note.
"This, in our view, is likely to cause other brands, manufacturers, retailers, and logistics companies to have to invest more aggressively to compete with Amazon and its differentiated delivery," he added. "The cost to compete within e-commerce continues to rise."
While Walmart and Target don't break out for Wall Street how much money they spend on shipping and related expenses each year, we know those costs have eaten into profit margins and continue to do so. And investors have punished Walmart and Target, at least in the near term, for having to spend more money to compete.
Walmart in January 2017 started offering free two-day shipping on orders totaling more than $35, dropping its minimum purchase threshold, which had been $50 up until then. And it bought Jet.com for $3 billion in 2016 as another bid to juice its online business and compete with Amazon, but also to be able to reach shoppers in bigger cities in a faster window of time.
Target, meanwhile, in March 2018 made free two-day shipping available for all of its credit card holders, with no minimum purchase requirement. For all other Target shoppers, two-day shipping comes free with a minimum online order of $35. The company had lowered its purchase threshold to $25 from $50 in 2015, but raised it back to $35 in 2017. And on the acquisition front, Target acquired same-day delivery platform Shipt for $550 million in 2017, allowing it to get to customers in bigger cities like New York in under 24 hours.
A Target spokesperson said:
"Today, Target guests have numerous ways to shop same-day and receive their purchases within hours. We have a range of options that make shopping easy and convenient, including our in-store shopping experience and delivery from Shipt in nearly 250 markets. Our Drive Up service is at more than 1100 stores and Order Pickup services at all 1850 stores – both free, no-membership-required services."
Walmart used its corporate Twitter account on Friday evening to say: "One-day free shipping...without a membership fee. Now THAT would be groundbreaking. Stay tuned." A spokesperson said the company didn't have anything to share beyond that.
"While margins have been pressured ... now [Walmart and Target] have a much more sophisticated supply chain," Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors, said. "It's been paying off," because same-store sales have continued to climb at these retailers, she said. "The real issue is when you get to the holidays. ... That's when people will be saying, 'Oh my God, I need this same day or in one day.'"
To be sure, Walmart, Target and many of Amazon's other rivals like Best Buy, Kohl's and Home Depot are increasingly touting their buy online, pick up in store options. And that's something Amazon hasn't been able to match at scale, without a far-reaching network of bricks-and-mortar locations like these other companies.
There's evidence more and more shoppers are turning to this option, too.
Target this past holiday season said the amount of online orders it fulfilled through either in-store pickup or its curbside pickup service was up 60% from a year ago and accounted for roughly 25% of online sales during November and December.
A recent, April survey from Coresight Research found 46% of online shoppers in the U.S. had collected at least one of their online orders from a bricks-and-mortar store within the past 12 months. Coresight said Walmart and Target are the two most popular U.S. retailers for buying online and picking up in store, followed by Best Buy and Home Depot.
—CNBC's Courtney Reagan contributed to this reporting.