How Long Will Walmart’s Free Curbside Pickup Continue?

If you're not a regular Walmart customer, it sounds like a myth. But it's real and it's spectacular. The retail giant will fill your shopping cart for you and allow you to pick up your order curbside … for free.

As popular as it is with consumers, the time-saving feature can be a hassle for Walmart employees. A store location recently closed for a day only for an employee to find 428 pickup orders waiting to be fulfilled.

How does Walmart do it? And is it sustainable?

That's what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.

Can Walmart Continue Offering Curbside Pickup for Free?

Walmart’s free curbside pickup seems surreal, especially considering it’s the largest retailer in the world.

How long will it last? That's what a Clark listener wanted to know on the Feb. 13 podcast episode.

Mary in Virginia asked: "Regarding Walmart's curbside-pickup grocery service, how long do you expect this service to continue? This convenient service is FREE (with a minimum $35 order) and when an item or items are unavailable, Walmart ships these to my home for free! How can they afford to do that?"

Some key points of clarity:

  • Walmart curbside pickup is free for orders of at least $35. Otherwise, you'll need to pay $5.99.
  • There's no markup on any of the items when you place a curbside order. In fact, if the price changes after you order, you'll get the lowest price, whether that's the original or the new number.
  • Not every Walmart item is available for curbside pickup. Once limited to groceries, Walmart expanded the service in a major way in May 2020.
  • Employees fill the orders and bring them to your car. But they aren't allowed to accept tips.
  • If an item you purchased isn't in stock, a Walmart employee will bring it to your home.

It’s that last point — the home delivery — where the economics sink most heavily into the red.

“It’s a real money loser for Walmart. They’re way upside down on it,” Clark says. “What they’re counting on is you [being able to] count on them.

“They don’t want you to go away disappointed or worse, start shopping at a competitor, and so they take the loss on a small number of items to be more reliable to you on your overall basket. Now at what point will Walmart decide that they need to charge a fee?”

Clark Predicts the Future of Walmart Curbside Pickup

As I mentioned, Walmart started the service at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that inflation is on its way down and the economic impacts of COVID-19 are loosening, it’s unclear at what point Walmart may adjust its pricing.

The company has seemed focused on Walmart+ lately. That membership service, which is a cross between Amazon Prime and Costco, includes a delivery perk.

For $12.95 a month, Walmart+ members get free delivery on all items, even on small orders.

Clark thinks the way the parent company is handling Sam’s Club curbside pickup offers a hint about the future of Walmart’s curbside pickup.

“Sam’s Club is experimenting with a fee right now on curbside pickup. If you are a regular Sam’s Club member, you pay $4 in most markets for curbside pickup. If you are a premium member, it’s free,” Clark says.

“You can almost think about how Walmart is testing all this with Walmart+. Where with Walmart+, you get free delivery. If you’re not a Walmart+ member, you pay for delivery.

“They might go to a system something like that depending on how the Sam’s Club experiment works for curbside pickup of groceries. Only time will tell.”

Final Thoughts

For now, Walmart offers free curbside pickup without additional charges on any items — with no tips allowed, free home delivery if something is out of stock and giving you the lowest price in case of a price change.

It’s the type of deal that Clark loves. Although he doesn’t expect it to last forever.

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