May 14, 2015 · 1 minute

Walmart plans to become as convenient for shoppers as Amazon with a $50 annual subscription that will offer free three-day shipping on roughly 1 million items.

The Information reports that this service was supposed to debut last winter -- which would have allowed Walmart to take advantage of the holiday shopping frenzy -- but it was delayed until this year because of unspecified technical issues.

Consumers will be able to sign up for the service on an invitation-only basis. It will offer many kinds of items, but its catalog will be much smaller than the 7 million items Walmart sells through its website, the Associated Press reports.

Walmart has made several announcements over the last week to show that it's more than just a megastore where workers' incomes are supplemented by food drives. (Though, to be fair, the company has increased its minimum wages.)

The first announcement was an integration with Tango, the messaging app that received a $215 million investment from Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce site. Tango's users will now be able to shop Walmart's catalog through the app, and the company has decided not to take a cut of the revenues from any purchases.

The second announcement, which also involved Alibaba, was that Walmart's stores in China will now accept payment via the Chinese e-commerce giant's Alipay service. If that goes well, Walmart might finally embrace mobile payments elsewhere.

All these announcements make it clear that Walmart isn't content to watch Amazon encroach on its business with new grocery and home-goods services. The company wants people to shop with messaging apps, pay for items with their phones, and sign up for an annual subscription to get "free" shipping.

It's going to be harder and harder to tell the difference between Walmart and Amazon. Sure, one focuses on e-commerce and the other has brick-and-mortar stores. But starting soon, shopping at either company online won't be a whole lot different as far as consumers are concerned.

[photo by Patrick Hoesley]