The holidays are coming fast.
More ways to shop, more delivery options, more gifts, and more new or exclusive products will be crammed into fewer shopping days. Halloween hasn’t arrived yet, and retailers are out touting their plans for the holiday season. In fact, Walmart Inc. on Wednesday announced that it’s starting the all-important holiday period on Oct. 25 — earlier than ever — to capture sales in a period with six fewer shopping days than last year and what promises to be cutthroat competition from peers such as Target as well as digital Goliath Amazon.
Target Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Brian Cornell said he’s expecting a strong holiday season, in spite of uncertainty surrounding the ongoing tariff negotiations between the U.S. and China. “I’ve never felt better,” Cornell told a roomful of editors during a holiday briefing. “2018 was a sensational year, and we’re set up to make sure 2019 is an even better year. We’re ready for another great holiday season.
“We’re working very closely with vendors,” Cornell added when asked about price increases. “Our merchant team has been out in front of [the tariff issue] and our sourcing team that works across other countries has been anticipating these changes for a number of years. Some of the work we did is benefiting us right now, alternatives in the supply chain…I think we’re seeing those benefits today as we prepare for the holiday season.”
On a conference call with editors, Steve Bratspies, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S. on Wednesday addressed the tariff issues and also ticked off new features designed to help consumers save time or money, or both.
Bratspies said, “We’ve been paying very close attention to this for a year. Our team goes through item by item, and we haven’t seen lots of price inflation, and we’ve been able to offset it. I haven’t seen any pressure. Customers count on Walmart for the best prices every day. Our price leadership is strong, and growing.
“Saving customers time is also paramount at this time of year, especially with fewer days to get ready for big family meals, parties and gift-giving,” Bratspies said. “We’re making sure this season is the easiest yet for our customers with nine tech-enabled ways to shop for everyone on their list — when and how they want.”
Asked what categories Walmart is emphasizing, Bratspies said, “The shorter answer is we’re looking for capture share everywhere.” Toys and electronics were part of the longer answer.
Walmart is introducing new platforms for gift searches, including Gift Finder on walmart.com, which can offer options for 40 different types of gift recipients. A new scannable toy catalogue for shoppers with iOS devices will allow them to use their phones to shop for items in the highly contested toy category when it drops Nov. 1.
In the saving time category, expanded Check Out With Me is now available at Walmart Supercenters, allowing shoppers to avoid lines at registers.
Also new this season, customers can order hundreds of thousands of eligible items to be delivered the next day without a membership fee using Free NextDay delivery.
An expanded DotCom Store is now also available at all Walmart Supercenters, where customers can work with associates to place an online order at the store if the item they’re shopping for can’t be found at the location. Items are then sent to customers’ homes or to their nearest Walmart store for pickup.
“We’re feeling good, traffic has been pretty good and we don’t see that changing for the holidays,” Bratspies said. “There will be an intensity inside the store in terms of how we flow inventory into stores. We’ll make sure we’re prepared. We’re going to lead on price. We have a pretty good playbook that we run on merchandising and pricing.”
With fewer days to shop, stores could be frenetic. Both retailers are leaning into existing associates for extra staffing during peak periods.
Cornell said Target is investing nearly $50 million in seasonal payroll compared to last holiday season to staff stores during peak shopping hours. First right of refusal for more hours will go to existing staffers. Target is also doubling the number of employees dedicated to fulfillment, including same-day services, so consumers can receive their orders in as little time as one hour. “It will be a significant investment, but one that will return higher sales,” he said.
The ceo said 25 million consumers have enrolled in Target Circle, which he called the country’s fastest-growing loyalty program. Circle offers members exclusive ways to save money. An 18-month test in five markets revealed that Circle members saved more, shopped more frequently and spent 2 percent to 5 percent more. For the holiday season, Circle consumers will be incentivized with early access to select Black Friday doorbusters and deals throughout the season on must-have apparel items, among other things.
The retailer will offer a curated assortment of only-at-Target brands — more than 40 labels — and partnerships with national brands such as Disney and Levi’s. The Disney hook-up consists of shop-in-shops at 25 Target stores, fully built-out environments with red benches and a Bullseye dog that kids can sit beside while watching Disney content.
Trends for holiday from Target’s owned apparel brands, including A New Day, Ava & Viv, Prologue: big puffer statement coats for men, women and kids; vinyl tech accessories and a turntable from Heyday; Goodfellow’s expansion into men’s fragrance, grooming and candles; and more pajama sets with more sizes and more animals. Also, beauty gift sets from Bliss, among others.
Free shipping on hundreds of thousands of products with no minimum purchase or membership required will begin Nov. 1 for Target shoppers. The offer will run through Dec. 21.
“We want to invest and continue to grow,” Cornell said.