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Walmart beefs up grocery delivery as battle with Amazon intensifies

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As Amazon muscles its way into physical stores, Walmart is taking the online fight to the former.

New York

WALMART INC plans to expand its grocery home-delivery service to more than 100 metro areas this year, a sign its food fight with Amazon.com Inc. is heating up.

The service, currently in six cities, will roll out to more than 40 per cent of US households by the end of the year, the company said on Wednesday. Deliveries will be handled by Uber Technologies Inc and other providers, and will carry a US$9.95 service fee - with a US$30 minimum purchase.

"We're moving fast," Tom Ward, Walmart's vice-president of digital operations, said in an interview. "We will be pretty aggressive with it."

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The move into home delivery is part of Walmart's broader push to get more of its in-store shoppers to start buying online as well, where they typically spend twice as much. It also complements Walmart's rollout of kerbside grocery pickup, now available in 1,200 stores and coming to an additional 1,000 this year.

Walmart's online business had been a bright spot for the chain, but it stumbled during the holiday season. Inventory snafus hurt sales, and investors have fretted over the impact that its e-commerce initiatives will have on profitability.

Walmart will compete against Amazon's Prime Now service, which offers free two-hour delivery to members of its loyalty programme. That service has supplanted its Amazon Fresh programme, which launched a decade ago but has been scaled back.

Both companies have also introduced services that allow delivery people to enter homes and leave packages inside.

Other big grocers, such as Kroger Co and Costco Wholesale Corp, use Instacart Inc's personal shoppers to handle deliveries. Target Corp, meanwhile, agreed to acquire delivery startup Shipt last year to expand its capabilities.

In Walmart's case, the orders will be taken by in-store employees, who will receive three weeks of additional training. Orders placed by 1 pm will be delivered the same day. Mr Ward said the home-delivery service has brought in new customers in the six cities where it's currently offered, which include Dallas and San Jose, California.

"We're going to gain customers who might not have access to a brick-and-mortar store," he said.

Online sales comprise just a fraction of the US$800 billion US grocery market - a smaller share than in countries like the UK or South Korea - but consumer acceptance is growing.

While only one in three shoppers currently purchase groceries online for home delivery, about six in ten expect to use it more in the next five years, according to a survey of 1,100 people conducted by industry researcher Field Agent. BLOOMBERG

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