Fourth quarter of 2019 is a make it or break it time for many retailers.
This has been a record year for store closures. Credit Suisse recently said 7,600 stores have shut their doors — the highest in the index's 24-year history. Additionally, 28 retailers are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, with apparel retailers being especially vulnerable.
The stakes are high, especially with fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas making for a shorter shopping season, even though studies show that consumers started preparing for holiday gift-giving as early as July. That means retailers are focusing on ways to leverage promotions and go after market share.
Below is a running list of what some of the biggest players in the industry are doing to compete. Some of it centers on competitive pricing, but there are other methodologies employed, namely the introduction of compelling services and ease of logistics for shoppers.
In late October, Walmart launched an earlier-than-usual blitz of holiday deals to make up for a shortened shopping season before Thanksgiving weekend. Discounts ranged across electronics, gaming, toys, home and sporting goods. Along with the discounts, Walmart sweetened its customer offer with an expanded set of shopping features and services. That includes personalized gift recommendations, a scannable toy catalog and free next-day delivery.
It is also touting its "Check Out With Me" option, which allows customers to make purchases with free-floating employees around the store, and a DotCom Store, where shoppers can make online purchases at the store for items not in stock. To lure customers into its stores, it's hosting events, like tie-ins around the Pokémon and Star Wars movies.
Target announced in October that from Nov. 1 through Dec. 21, it would give customers free shipping on "hundreds of thousands of items" with no minimum purchase or membership required. Along with free shipping, it was offering a host of discounts and perks, including through its expanded loyalty program.
The retailer said it would boost payroll spending by $50 million year over year to "make more skilled team members available" to shoppers during peak holiday hours, including for product fulfillment.
In November, Target unveiled its "HoliDeals" promotions, with thousands of deals throughout the holiday ranging from décor to electronics and toys, among other categories. It started with Target's Black Friday Preview Sale, which the company said had four times the number of deals compared to last year.
Amazon kicked off its early holiday deals on the first day of November, but is warning customers that, though it's adding new ones every day, they'll end Nov. 21. In its press release, the e-commerce giant also boasts about its huge selection and "fast and free delivery options from just a few hours to one day." It's not a Santa photo-op, but it's all in keeping with the fundamental promise to shoppers to be the best on "price, selection, convenience" that has driven rivals crazy for two decades at all times of the year.
The sheer size of that massive assortment can make the company's site difficult to shop when you don't already know what you want, however, especially now that its Marketplace, with its many sellers of various reputations, moves most of its assortment. To eliminate that problem, Amazon has set up a slew of gift guides, in Fashion, Toys, Electronics, Home, Luxury Beauty, Active and Lifestyle, including one supposedly curated by Mariah Carey.
Voice assistant Alexa can be enlisted to help with shopping and calendar organization, to check in on orders and deliveries, and even "turn on the Christmas tree" for those who have connected their lights to Amazon's devices. But it remains to be seen whether one new ability will help or hurt during the season's most stressful moments: Amazon has enabled Alexa to "change the subject, and she will provide a family-friendly topic to quell any disagreements at the dinner table."
Unlike Amazon, mass merchants and even some department store rivals, Nordstrom is keeping the focus on its merchandise and its services at least as much as its Black Friday deals. The company, which is emphasizing services like styling and tailoring at its full-line and Local stores, is adding free gift wrapping for the holidays, and introducing new monogramming and other personalization.
The department store is making sure that kids who send Santa a letter through its "Santa Mail workshops" get a response, and a series of breakfasts with Santa (free for children two and younger, $15 for kids ages 3 to 17, and $25 for adults) benefits charities. At stores with full bars, adults of drinking age can try a limited-edition Kiss My Cranberries cocktail, $14 and on offer on from Nov. 12 to Dec. 31 — or longer if they make it at home.
Nordstrom is also trumpeting its store credit card. The company, which last year netted $380 million in credit card revenue, Nov. 12 began treating cardmembers in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago to free, next day shipping on select merchandise. And starting Dec. 2, customers approved for a new store card get a $60 bonus and added loyalty points.
But customers don't need a Nordstrom card to take advantage of online order pickup from stores, which from Dec. 8 to Dec. 24 is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week in some locations. And from Nov. 29 to Dec. 30, all Nordstrom stores are offering curbside pickup as early as 8 a.m.
Kohl's began its Black Friday deals on Nov. 1, and won't be reining them in until Sunday, Dec. 3. The retailer has invited a department store mainstay, Santa Claus, to its stores on "select Sundays" this month and next.
But the real draw will be "doorbusters and deals," and the retailer is opening doors at 5 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving Day. The company is dangling its popular "Kohl's Cash" as well, giving customers $15 Kohl's Cash for every $50 they spend in stores or online from Nov. 25 to 29, the week of Black Friday.
The retailer has also developed a limited selection of emerging brands in a "Curated by Kohl's" effort found online and in 50 locations and is adding a holiday capsule by fashion designer Jason Wu to that assortment.
This busiest of all retail seasons will likely be a test for Kohl's agreement to take Amazon's returns, now that the service is available at all of its stores. Executives have said, with some independent research backing them up, that so far it's driving traffic.
Bed Bath & Beyond
Bed Bath & Beyond this week announced it will open its doors on Thanksgiving day for the first time. On Nov. 28, stores will be open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., and then re-open on Black Friday from 6 a.m. to noon, according to a company press release. To further entice customers into its stores, the home goods retailer on Thanksgiving and Black Friday will hand out 25% off coupons, which is slightly higher than the 20% off coupons it has buffeted consumers with for years.
For shoppers who can't make it to stores on the holiday, Bed Bath & Beyond is offering 20% off coupons both in-store and online from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29. Additionally, the retailer is offering free standard shipping on orders over $19 through Dec. 2. Though Bed Bath & Beyond didn't disclose how fast orders will be delivered to consumers, offering free shipping at a minimum is becoming more crucial to stay relevant among shoppers as Amazon and other larger players normalize fast and free fulfillment.
The retailer is also hosting an "Early Black Friday event" from Nov. 17 to Nov. 27, which includes deals on cookware, home electronics and holiday decor.
On Nov. 4, eBay launched a "Holiday Brand Outlet," with savings on "the season's most coveted names all season," according to a company press release. From Nov. 4 to Nov. 11, the site is touted an extra 20% off over 30 brands on the outlet. The holiday edition of the outlet seems to follow in the footsteps of the Summer Brand Outlet the marketplace debuted in July. Both efforts emphasize lower prices on top brands, an effort that could better position it against Amazon or encourage more of a treasure hunt feel. To that end, the marketplace is pushing a best price guarantee as well, including over Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Adding to the discovery element, eBay also announced weekly deal drops, touting "Black Friday-worthy prices" every Friday from Nov. 1 through Dec. 13. The products all come with free shipping. Notably, Vice President and General Manager of Merchandising Sam Bright cited the later Cyber Weekend this year as a reason for finding "new ways to make the most of holiday shopping" this season.
Socks are the secret to Old Navy's holiday sales strategy. The company recently announced that, for the third year in a row, shoppers can purchase $1 cozy socks online and in stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. With their "Shock of a Dolla" campaign, the apparel retailer will also donate $1 for every cozy sock purchase to Boys & Girls Clubs up to $1 million. (The retailer's popular 2018 Black Friday sock sale, dubbed "One Dolla Holla," was also in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of America.)
Black Friday deals launch early with a pre-sale and will continue through Cyber Sunday and Monday deals. Those sales included at press time, 50% off jeans, sweaters and outerwear from Nov. 20 through Nov. 26, the Black Friday Sale, from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29, which extends the 50% off to almost everything, and the company's website will offer 50% off on everything Dec. 1 through Dec. 2.
Old Navy will have extended shopping hours and will remain open overnight between Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
Best Buy announced its "12 Days of Deals" promotion beginning Monday. Each day, a new promotion guarantees the retailer's lowest price of the season on select items. Examples of themes include gifts for families, foodies, Apple lovers and stocking stuffers.
Additionally, current Total Tech Support members can save 50% when they gift Total Tech Support service, which includes unlimited support for all tech and appliances.
Shoppers can receive free next-day delivery on thousands of items on the company's website. Through Dec. 25 customers will also get free standard shipping at Best Buy with no minimum purchase or membership. Same-day delivery is available in nearly 40 U.S. cities for online orders completed before 3 p.m. (2 p.m. on Sundays).