Walmart's 'Pay With Cash' Lets Unbanked Shoppers Buy Things Online, Sort Of

03/21/2012 02:49 pm ET

Nine million Americans don't have bank accounts. Where some see inequality, Walmart sees opportunity.

Walmart.com will debut a new program in April called "Pay With Cash," where customers can select items online and pay for them at a nearby store, Bloomberg reports. The idea is to offer people without credit or debit cards some of the convenience of online shopping and make the in-store purchase more simple and streamlined.

Walmart has long courted the unbanked. Since 2004, the company has put "MoneyCenters" in thousands of its stores, where shoppers can cash checks, pay bills and make wire transfers. Over the past holiday season, it relaunched its layaway program, a big hit with shoppers who want to pay over time without using credit cards. Now, the store is even offering free tax preparation, with the hope that shoppers will put their refunds on its own prepaid debit cards.

Though twenty percent of Walmart customers are unbanked, this doesn't mean they don't have web access. Walmart has fueled this trend with its line of "Straight Talk" pre-paid smartphones. Models like the Samsung Galaxy and the Nokia E-5 allow for web browsing and are sold on a pay-as you-go-basis, with no credit check, contract or bank account required.

Arming shoppers with smart phones does have a downside. Walmart is facing steep competition from stores like Amazon.com, which offers low prices as well as cheap shipping and the convenience of shopping from home. Many shoppers are now using apps like Amazon's "Price Check" to scan bar codes in stores like Walmart and purchase items elsewhere. "Pay With Cash" is a chance for Walmart to recoup lost business, as well as bring new shoppers to its website.

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