Amazon Prime vs. Walmart’s Free Two-Day Shipping: Which One Is Better?
Image: iStockphoto/NoDerog

For most people, the Amazon Prime vs. Walmart’s free two-day shipping isn’t much of a debate.

Amazon Prime, they say, is by far the superior service because of everything that you get with the $99-a-year subscription.

It’s not just free two-day shipping – there’s the streaming video, cloud storage, family privileges, Kindle discounts and the added perk of getting same day or 1-hour delivery in some cities.

On the flip side, Walmart’s two-day shipping is free for pre-tax purchases of $35 or more. Getting free shipping from a huge retailer is a nice perk for people who make most of their purchases online and aren’t interested in streaming video or cloud storage.

Those surface-level perks aren’t enough to sway websites or consumers from hailing Amazon as the superior choice, though.

Here’s an excerpt from a TIME Magazine article about Prime’s grip on upper-class households:

“Clearly, consumers have increasingly viewed Prime as worth the money. The ranks of Prime subscribers in the U.S. reportedly rose to over 60 million in 2016, up from 10 million in 2013. And an astounding 70% of upper-income American households (those earning $112,000 or more) are now Prime members.”

We’ll be the first to admit to you that Amazon Prime is the superior all-around membership, but we’re most concerned about shipping and pricing because that’s probably what you’re most concerned about as Christmas Day draws near.

See Also: 5 Best Websites for Thoughtful Christmas Gifts

To get a clear sense of the pros and cons of each shipping service, we’re going to look at four areas we think are really important to the average consumer during the holidays: shipping perks, pricing, returns, and exclusions.

Shipping Perks: Amazon Rules With Same-Day Shipping

If there’s one perk that sets Amazon Prime apart from Walmart two-day shipping, it’s the ability to get an item shipped to you in less than 24 hours.

Same-day delivery is only available to Prime customers in major cities, though, including all 15 of the country’s most populated cities:

West Central East/South
  • Seattle/Tacoma
  • Sacramento
  • Stockton
  • San Francisco/ Oakland
  • Fresno
  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
  • Tucson 
  • Phoenix
  • San Antonio
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Chicago
  • Cincinnati
  • Louisville
  • Nashville
  • Milwaukee
  • Columbus
  • Indianapolis
  • Tampa
  • Orlando
  • Jacksonville
  • Atlanta
  • Charlotte
  • Nashville
  • Raleigh
  • Richmond
  • Washington D.C.
  • Baltimore
  • Philadelphia
  • NYC and parts of NJ
  • Boston

There are a few restrictions to this, though. First, you only get free same-day shipping when you buy $35 or more in merchandise. Otherwise, it’s a $5.99 fee.

Also, the Amazon Same-Day service is available for more than 1 million products, but not the full 30 million Amazon offers.

Walmart doesn’t offer free one-day shipping.

Pricing: Forget Video and Cloud Storage, Is Amazon Overcharging You? 

If you haven’t noticed, there are a slew of articles about Amazon Prime’s notoriously high prices when compared to non-Prime items on Amazon’s site.

A dad, the article says, wanted to buy a magazine subscription for his daughter. The subscription normally costs $5.21, but when he logged on with his Amazon Prime account, the price was $11.21.

The stories go beyond just this one dad, too.

Customers regularly see Amazon Prime items listed at the top of their searches at prices higher than other results. And why do Amazon Prime items get listed first? We like how Geekwire explained the factors that influence search results on Amazon.

“Amazon’s recommendations are part of Amazon’s secret sauce. It takes into account many factors when deciding which product should earn the buy button,” reporter Trisha Duryee wrote, “including a seller’s reputation, price and whether or not it is an item Amazon stocks in its warehouse or if the product ships from the vendor’s fulfillment center.”

And this, she said, is why customers often won’t encounter the cheapest items first. This issue became so annoying to consumers that several lawsuits were filed against the online retailer.

Amazon Prime’s higher prices ignited discussions on Amazon’s customer forums and spawned a rather spirited Reddit thread. Reddit user shawmuttv2 bemoaned Prime prices as he or she was putting together a care package for a family member, noting that, in some cases, Prime prices were 100% higher than other sellers.

The basic argument is this: Why pay for Prime if a Prime item is $13.99 with free shipping and the non-Prime item is $10 with $4 shipping?

The advantage is that you get 2-day shipping with Prime, whereas marketplace (third-party) sellers ship on a 5-8 day schedule and sometimes longer. Also, you’re dealing directly with Amazon when you buy with Prime, not a third-party seller.

When compared to Walmart’s prices, Amazon Prime performed well but lagged behind on the gaming console we checked:

  • Xbox One Battlefield 1 500GB Bundle: $235.32 AP, $199 WM
  • KitchenAid Classic 4.5-Qt Stand Mixer K45SS: $199 AP, $199 WM
  • FitBit Charge 2: $149.19 AP, $148.95 WM

Walmart’s Two-Day Item Prices Are Higher, Too

While Amazon has gotten a bad rap for featuring Prime prices that are higher than marketplace prices, it’s worth noting that Walmart’s prices reflect the same disparity. Their website offers third-party sellers alongside Walmart two-day items, and those third-party prices are typically cheaper.

Related: Amazon Seller Scams: How Scammers Use Amazon Marketplace to Rob Shoppers

Returns: Life Is a Little Easier With Walmart Two-Day

The buying process on Walmart and Amazon is straightforward, as is the shipping. But what happens when you don’t like what you’ve gotten?

There are significant differences between the return process for Amazon Prime and Walmart two-day shipping.

Amazon’s Return Policy

You have three options for returning something you bought with your Prime membership:

  • Return via UPS for free if the item you bought was eligible for free returns.*
  • Return via UPS and pay for shipping because the item wasn’t eligible for free returns.
  • Exchange your Prime item for another Prime item and get free shipping on the returned item.

*Check the product page for a “Free Returns” designation.

You also have the option of dropping off returns at an Amazon Locker instead of a UPS location, but this option is only available in certain cities.

There are some exceptions to these return rules, though. For example, one of Amazon’s help pages says that, if you’re returning the item because Amazon made an error in sending it, Amazon will “process your return and issue a full refund with no deduction for return shipping after receiving your return of the eligible product(s).”

Walmart’s Return Policy

Walmart’s two-day return policy is more forgiving than Amazon Prime, mainly because you can make returns at any one of the 3,465 Supercenter locations in the United States.

So, rather than getting stuck with return shipping costs, you can just take your product to the nearest Walmart.

This solution is pretty simple, but it may be annoying for someone who doesn’t want to deal with the lines at a brick-and-mortar location.

You have 90 days to return the item for a full refund, assuming the item is in its original condition, which brings us to our next point.

All returns of Walmart merchandise purchased online must be returned with “all original packing materials and accessories,” Walmart’s returns page says.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, just like Amazon Prime, you have the option of buying items from third-party sellers known as “dealers and resellers.” If you purchase an item from a dealer or reseller, your items “are not eligible for return, refund, or exchange,” Walmart’s website says.

Exclusions & Limitations

Now that you’ve got a good read on pricing and return policies, it’s time to talk exclusions:

Walmart: No Third-Party Refunds

We’ve already talked about one of these: Walmart doesn’t accept returns from items purchased on its website from resellers or dealers. Amazon, on the other hand, does allow refunds but you may have to pay for return shipping.

Walmart: Limited Two-Day Options

When we say “limited,” we’re saying that in comparison to Amazon Prime. Walmart two-day is eligible for about 1 million products on the Walmart website, while Amazon Prime is available for about 30 million products on Amazon’s site.

Walmart Two-Day: U.S. Only

Walmart’s free two-day shipping program is good in the United States only. Amazon, on the other hand, offers Prime in the United States and Europe.

For example, when my wife and I were living in Barcelona, Spain, I used Prime to order things we needed for our baby via the Spanish Amazon Prime site.

Final Thoughts: Walmart Two-Day Has Perks, but Amazon Prime Is the Winner

We started off this article by highlighting some of the expert’s opinions about Amazon Prime versus Walmart’s two-day shipping. While we think their claims were pretty solid, we also think they left one major difference between the two: returns.

Returns, in our opinion, are better with Walmart because you can avoid return shipping costs by heading to a local Walmart Superstore. If you’re someone who tends to return online purchases, you may enjoy Walmart’s two-day shipping more.

If we boil this comparison down to shipping services, we think Amazon Prime offers the advantage because they have 30 million products in the Prime program, as well as same-day shipping in many of the country’s biggest cities.

As you gear up for the holiday season, shipping is probably one of many concerns. We’ve created a holiday shopping, hosting and travel guide we think you’ll find useful. We cover a variety of topics, with each article giving you smart, actionable tips to make this holiday season an enjoyable one.

J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a personal finance reporter who examines credit cards, credit scores, and various bank products. J.R. is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism contest. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and his insight has been featured on Investopedia, GOBankingRates, H&R Block and Huffington Post.