NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart and Target, two of the biggest U.S. retailers, on Thursday rolled out plans to lure shoppers into stores during the holiday season that includes discounts, stepped-up marketing and spiffed up stores.
The moves illustrate how important the holiday shopping season is to retailers. It's a roughly two-month period that accounts on average for 20 percent of the retail industry's annual sales.
Wal-Mart and Target, in particular, have a lot to prove this holiday season. Both are heading into the holiday shopping season with turnaround plans they launched after being battered by the economy and their own mistakes.
Target's turnaround is gaining more traction than Wal-Mart's. In August, Target raised its annual profit for the year and reported its fourth straight gain in revenue at stores open at least a year, a key industry figure. The results are evidence that CEO Brian Cornell's efforts to spruce up Target's fashions and home decor are paying off.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart announced earlier this month that revenue for the current fiscal year would be flat, down from its previous forecast for sales growth of 1 percent to 2 percent. And it now expects profit to fall as much as 12 percent for next fiscal year as spending on e-commerce operations and higher wages squeeze the bottom line.
This comes as Wal-Mart's U.S. CEO Greg Foran is spearheading a major overhaul of the stores that includes basics like making sure stores are cleaner and well stocked.
Here's what shoppers can expect from both retailers during this holiday season:
Both Wal-Mart and Target said discounting will be key. Wal-Mart says it will be offering price cuts, or what it refers to as "rollbacks," starting Nov. 1, on thousands of holiday products that will last at least 90 days. That's the same time as a year ago. It also says it will offer fewer "weekend" only deals.
Target didn't provide specifics on its discounting, but in late September it said it would match its online prices with more than two dozen online competitors.
Wal-Mart is sticking with free shipping with a $50 minimum — the same as last year. The retailer is encouraging online shoppers whose orders fall below the minimum to pick them up at the store.
Target is bringing back free shipping for the holidays — without any restrictions. It will waive the $25 minimum threshold starting Nov. 1 and it will end Dec. 25. Last week, Best Buy, the nation's largest consumer electronics chain, said that it would drop its $35 minimum to qualify for free shipping.
CHANGES IN STORES
Wal-Mart will have workers demonstrate toys, and there'll be more food tastings. And they'll be carols playing too. It's part of its plan to add more theater to the stores.
Meanwhile, Target is featuring its mascot, a white bulldog with the trademark red bullseye painted on him, throughout the store more prominently. And the retailer is overhauling the front area of the store that is stocked with $1 to $5 items and branding it under "Bullseye's Playground." For the holiday season, shoppers will find gift wrap and stocking stuffers there.
In time for the winter holidays, Target will have experts working the store to make sure the products are displayed correctly and that mannequins have current fashions.
OTHER THINGS THEY'RE DOING
Wal-Mart unveiled a new tool on its mobile app in time for the holiday season. The app allows online shoppers to check in when they arrive at the store to pick up their orders. It said that it expects nearly 75 percent of traffic to its website to come from a mobile device this holiday season.
That's up from 70 percent a year ago. Target said starting next week, 121 of its 1,800 stores will offer curbside pickup, up from the current 21.
Target is unveiling a new holiday campaign called "The Holiday Odyssey," a season-long tale that involves three kids, Target's mascot Bullseye and their quest to light a huge holiday tree. The campaign will be rolled out on TV and on its website and will include Lego and Ninja Turtle characters.