Smart Buying

New Competition for Amazon Prime

Other retailers are offering fast, free shipping, so Amazon is upping the ante.

Who isn’t disappointed when an online shopping cart doesn’t qualify for free shipping? Or grumpy about a three- to five-day wait for delivery? Amazon has accustomed shoppers to free shipping and a two-day wait, so now other retailers are introducing ways for customers to get fast, free shipping.

Many are mimicking Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime program with their own membership plans. For example, Wal-Mart is testing an unlimited free shipping program that will cost $50 a year. Overstock.com and ShopRunner.com offer similar programs for $20 a year and $79 a year, respectively. So far, few merchants offer shipping as speedy as Amazon’s, or perks such as access to movies. But as companies continue to improve supply and shipping networks, look for faster arrivals.

In response, Amazon is scrambling to preserve its lead. In some cities, the company now offers one- or two-hour delivery for groceries and household essentials, and same-day delivery for other items. It will also ship some items that weigh less than eight ounces and cost less than $10 free to all customers.

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