Walmart's (WMT) website has become more popular this holiday season.
The world's largest retailer said Tuesday it saw a record number of visits to its online business from the start of Black Friday through to Cyber Monday. And once at Walmart.com, shoppers clicked on the "buy" button. Gross merchandise volume of items sold by third-party sellers more than doubled from last year.
Walmart must be pleased that its stepped up efforts to compete with digital foe Amazon (AMZN) this holiday season are paying off. Walmart kicked off its Cyber Week deals the day after Thanksgiving at 12:01 a.m., headlined by a Samsung (SSNLF) 60-inch HD smart TV for $579, a savings of about $1,120.
Helping to make the early start to Cyber Week possible was the significantly expanded number of items available for sale on Walmart's website. The company now boasts more than 23 million items for sale, in large part spurred by more third-party sellers, up from 8 million a year ago.
Walmart also kicked off its traditional online-only sales on Thanksgiving Day, three hours earlier than last year. As for the user experience online this holiday season, Walmart has improved how fast its pages load by an average of 33% through various infrastructure investments.
But what looks to be a strong start for Walmart online for the holidays may come at a price to the company's bottom line.
About 95% of orders from Walmart's online store shipped for free on Cyber Monday, similar to the period between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday. Walmart offers free shipping to a person's home on orders of $50 or more, plus free pickup at its stores.
Free shipping is the high cost of Walmart trying to sell more stuff online during an ultra-competitive holiday season as competitors such as Amazon, Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY) are also out there with similar free shipping promises. The cost may be especially high this year as shoppers have come out in droves to order deeply discounted gifts from desktop computers and mobile devices, as opposed to the more profitable route for retailers like Walmart of shoppers buying merchandise by visiting physical stores.