Wal-Mart (WMT 1.13%) is having e-commerce dreams again.
The world's leading retailer is introducing the website Goodies Co., where foodies can receive a monthly shipment of food samples. The $7 monthly fee includes free shipping for the "taster's box" that will include samples of seven packaged food items.
This may not seem all that original. Clubs offering monthly shipments of everything from wine to salsa have existed for years. However, Wal-Mart's hoping that the samples of artisan eats inspire recipients to order full-size versions of the products that they like the best through the company's goodies.co website.
Amazon.com (AMZN -4.26%) is no stranger to subscriptions. It offers buyers the opportunity to schedule repeat purchases of the same items at set intervals for discounts through its "Subscribe and Save" program. However, Amazon itself has never rolled up its sleeves to create its own subscription product where surprises await the recipients every month.
There's another interesting wrinkle to Wal-Mart's playbook. It is encouraging members to post product reviews for the samples that they receive, awarding them with reward points that can be used at the Goodies Co. store down the line.
Amazon has obviously made customer reviews a very prominent part of its business since the 1990s, but it hasn't moved to create financial incentives for opinionated shoppers to speak their minds.
Wal-Mart may not necessarily be alone. Earlier this year, Target (TGT -4.88%) was discussing a subscription service to combat Amazon's "Subscribe and Save" offering, but that would be a product closer to Amazon's service, where it's the same product being delivered. Wal-Mart is not only adding an element of surprise to the monthly shipments, but using it as a way to get shoppers to come back for hard-to-find edibles.
In short, this is more interesting than you probably think.
This isn't the first time that Wal-Mart raises the stakes as we head into the telltale holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart followed Amazon into offering same-day delivery in a few test cities last month, and unlike Amazon, which is limited geographically, Wal-Mart has the ability to expand same-day fulfillment across larger stretches of the country.
Amazon isn't going to lose any sleep over Wal-Mart's moves just yet. Analysts see Amazon growing its holiday-quarter sales 28%, or seven times Wal-Mart's projected 4% advance. However, the world's largest retailer is starting to nickel-and-dime its way into Amazon's advantages -- and that's fitting, given that Wal-Mart started as Walton's Five and Dime.