Wal-Mart ups ante on holiday shopping

Wal-Mart is doing whatever it takes to rope in holiday shoppers however they want to buy.

For the first time, Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated is offering free shipping on what it considers the season’s top 100 hottest gifts, from board games to items related to Disney’s hit film “Frozen” items, starting Saturday. The move comes as rival Target Corp. began offering free shipping on all items, a programme that started late October and will last through December 20.

According to Associated Press, Wal-Mart is also planning to offer discounts, or what it refers to as “rollbacks,” on more than 20,000 items on a broad range of products, from groceries to TVs, starting Saturday. The timing is similar to last year, but the discounter said the assortment is broader.

It is also pulling forward by nearly a month 15 24-hour online deals originally reserved for the Thanksgiving weekend and so-called Cyber Monday, about double from last year. For the first time, Wal-Mart will allow shoppers to pick up those 24-hour online specials at the store. They include 40-inch Element TVs for $199, down from $298, and Crayola Paint Makers for $12, down from $18.88. Customers will be able to purchase the deals online starting shortly after midnight on Monday.

The online deals are in addition to several hundred online holiday specials that start Saturday.

“We’re trying to offer the best deals when they want them,” said Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and general merchandise manager for Wal-Mart’s US division.

Wal-Mart unveiled some of the details of its holiday strategy as it considers matching online prices from competitors such as Amazon.com, a move that could help grab more customers but could also hurt profit margins.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter has matched prices of local store competitors but has not followed other retailers including Best Buy and Target in matching prices of online rivals. But last month, Wal-Mart started to test the strategy in five markets: Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas; Phoenix; and northwest Arkansas.

Wal-Mart is trying to rev up sluggish sales in the US as it battles competition from online retailers, dollar stores and drugstores. At the same time, it’s also dealing with a slowly recovering economy that hasn’t benefited its low-income shoppers. As a result, Wal-Mart’s US namesake stores, which account for 60 per cent of its total business, haven’t reported growth in a key sales measure in six straight quarters.

Wal-Mart’s move underscores how stores are being forced to step up their game for the holiday shopping season, which accounts for about 20 per cent of retail industry’s annual sales. The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, forecasts a 4.1 per cent sales increase to $616.9bn for November and December from last year. But online sales, which are included in the forecast, are expected to increase anywhere from eight per cent to 11 per cent.

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