Walmart may be in the midst of a huge bribery scandal surrounding its Mexican operations, but business must go on. As such, the retail behemoth is rolling out an odd new program in the U.S. that will allow customers to use cash to buy products online. The only hitch is that customers will have to go to the store to pay up. It "may seem silly to some," but the program actually makes a lot of sense, says Laura Heller at Forbes. And it represents a "hopeful push" by Walmart to catch up with Amazon, which is leaps and bounds ahead of Walmart in the field of online retailing, says Sarah Perez at TechCrunch. Here, a guide to Walmart's latest initiative:
How does this payment plan work?
Once customers have selected their items online, they can choose a cash payment option instead of the usual icons for credit and debit cards. Customers will then have to go to a brick-and-mortar store, pay the employee at the cash register, and either lug the product home or have it shipped for free.
Why shop online if you have to go to the store?
Cavernous as they are, physical Walmarts do not offer the variety that can be found on Walmart's online store. Physical stores also don't offer free shipping.
Will people really use this system?
Quite possibly. Walmart says many of its customers are on the low end of the economic scale, shop paycheck to paycheck, and often don't even have bank accounts. Only 15 percent of purchases at Walmart are made with a credit card. Walmart says the new program is specifically designed for these "unbanked" or "underbanked" customers, who make up as much as a quarter of the U.S. population. Analysts say they could represent a $45 billion market.
Do the "unbanked" have access to the internet?
Many do. While a significant portion of low-income Americans still don't have bank accounts, their access to the internet has climbed dramatically. "Even some homeless are now carrying smartphones," says Heller, and "WiFi hotspots are blanketing the nation." Data plans are getting cheaper, too, and "pay as you go" smartphone plans are easy to come by.
Are there other programs like Walmart's?
Yes. The website PayNearMe allows online shoppers to use cash, as does Dwolla, though the latter site requires that customers have a bank account.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- If Scotland leaves the union, is Northern Ireland next?
- America is doomed! (And other thoughts on our gloomy historical moment.)
- The impossible promise at the heart of Scotland's campaign for independence
Subscribe to the Week