Despite Juneteenth Misstep, Big-Box Retailer Still Poised to Catapult Itself Into Membership Services’ Lucrative Market

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Charnell Gilchrist

Walmart recently topped headlines when the big-box retailer received backlash relating to its recent 'Juneteenth' Celebration Edition ice cream. The rollout of the ice cream was allegedly meant to celebrate freedom and independence but elicited quite the opposite response, particularly amongst Twitter users. Across numerous platforms, responses to the photos of the 'Great Value' branded ice cream ranged from enraged to a 'lack of surprise' due to what now seems common; the capitalization on culture. Walmart decorated the ice cream carton with a four-fingered outstretched hand splattered across several dark green, red, and yellow colored swatches. The 'Swirled Red Velvet and Cheesecake' ice cream box also had the words 'Juneteenth' in red letters with 'TM' following it, sparking reasonable concern. [i]

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Juneteenth, observed on June 19th, was recently declared a Federal holiday for those unfamiliar with the day. Juneteenth commemorates the relay of the news of freedom delivered by Union soldiers to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Much of the anger regarding the ice cream's introduction related to large corporations seizing what seems like an opportunity to capitalize on human emotion. Many people were not surprised to see that Walmart had found a way to 'commemorate' Juneteenth while also seeming to line their own pockets. [ii]

Perhaps an introduction of Walmart's Celebration Edition ice cream with a portion of proceeds dedicated to providing resources for Black entrepreneurs would have been a better bargaining tactic. Though well-known for its questionable treatment of employees and frequent front-page 'scandals,' Walmart responded swiftly and compassionately to the backlash, apologizing for the concern caused by the ice cream. [iii]

Walmart's quick response likely relates to their desire to 'keep the waters calm' pending the successful execution of Walmart+ (Walmart Plus) Weekend. Many are unlikely to have heard of Walmart+, much less Walmart+ Weekend. In short, Walmart rolled out Walmart+ in 2020, a membership program meant to parallel the benefits that Amazon Prime members enjoy. Following a 15-day free trial period, customers who remain members of Walmart+ will pay $98 annually or $12.95 monthly. [iv]

Surprisingly, Walmart+ succeeds in offering benefits comparable to an Amazon Prime membership. In addition to free shipping and unlimited grocery deliveries, with no required minimum purchase amount, members enjoy up to 10 cents off per gallon at thousands of fuel stations throughout the nation. Possibly the most innovative benefit uniquely offered by Walmart is their new Scan & Go option. [v]

With Walmart's new Scan & Go option, customers who are Walmart+ members can sign into their account in the Walmart app and select Scan & Go. As customers shop, they will use their phones to scan each item before placing it into their cart. Once the customer completes their shopping, they can head to a self-checkout register and scan the QR code from their app to finalize payment. Customers will receive an exit pass and e-receipt but should note that weighted items and items with age restrictions will still require assistance from a Walmart associate. [vi]

With all of these benefits and perks, Walmart intends to take the debut of its membership program one step further. Mirroring Amazon's 'Prime Day' and 'Cyber Monday,' the retailer has planned Walmart+ Weekend, a members-only savings event beginning at noon PT, Thursday, June 2nd on Walmart.com and ending at 4 p.m. PT on Sunday, June 5th. [vii]

On its corporate website, the chain boasts top-selling items such as the Keurig K Compact selling for 45% off, the Hover-1 Blast Hoverboard, a Walmart+ Weekend exclusive, and the GE 10,000 BTU Portable WiFi A/C marked down 27% to $326. Though Walmart's prices are not always the lowest, the Walmart+ membership also allows access to thousands of other retailers available through Walmart's online shop. Additionally, Walmart has announced that it invites all new members to try 6-months of free Spotify Premium. [viii]

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The most wholesome and well-deserved outcome resulting from Walmart's strategic business move into membership services is Walmart's recognition of its associates. Known to have been previously caught in a controversy regarding providing employee discounts, Walmart is already two steps ahead after announcing that their nearly 1.6 million associates, full and part-time, will receive free Walmart+ memberships. [ix]

The move by Walmart to break into the membership services niche is a wise one. According to Statista, Walmart was the leading shopping app used in 2021, with an average of 120 million monthly active users compared to Amazon's 98.07 million. Further, Amazon earned 25.21 billion dollars from subscription services revenue compared to Walmart's 2.2 billion in revenue netted from Sam's club membership revenue. Walmart+ weekend may help draw new consumers who will find value in the benefits and become long-term customers. Only time will tell if Walmart will be able to capitalize on its already large grip over online shopping through its implementation of Walmart+. [x]

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Charnell Gilchrist

References

[i] FOX 13 Seattle, Walmart apologizes after backlash on social media for selling Juneteenth ice cream, (May 25, 2022)

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Walmart Press Center, Walmart Introduces Walmart+, (Sep. 1, 2020)

[v] Walmart, Mobile scan & go, (2022)

[vi] Id.

[vii] Walmart Press Center, Walmart To Host One-Weekend-Only Savings Event Exclusively for Walmart+ Members, (May 18, 2022)

[viii] Id.

[ix] Id.

[x] Statista, Global net revenue of Amazon 2014-2021, by product group, (Feb. 14, 2022)

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Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Western State College of Law, freelance writer Charnell Gilchrist, a North Carolina native, now spends her free time writing in sunny Aliso Viejo, CA.

Aliso Viejo, CA
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