Wal-Mart announced on Thursday it plans to keep prices low over the holidays and dedicate some in-store employees as “holiday helpers” to smooth checkout by helping customers find the shortest line, opening registers as needed and grabbing last-minute items off shelves. The retailer said more such helpers will be available at peak shopping times.
Wal-Mart will also boost the level of merchandise available for omnichannel services like in-store pickup and same-day pickup of online orders. The retail giant says that it has grown its online assortment from roughly 8 million at the start of this year to 20 million, and has plans to add millions more in the coming months. Starting Nov. 1, Walmart.com will feature a top 20 list of items to help customers discover exclusive offerings.
In an effort to bolster in-store experiences for the holidays, Wal-Mart will feature 23,000 Santa Claus appearances and over 150,000 product demos.
Wal-Mart is aggressively cutting prices to wrestle back market share from the likes of dollar stores and Target, something that UBS earlier this month said could hurt those rivals to the tune of $35 billion worth of business.
In recent months, Dollar General has stepped up price competition by cutting prices as much as 10% in order to drive sales and customer traffic, with an emphasis on its core lower-income customer segment. Meanwhile, Target CEO Brian Cornell said last month that the retailer would take steps to emphasize the “pay less” aspect of its “Expect More, Pay Less” tagline. UBS analyst Michael Lasser said Target could be especially vulnerable because its stores are often within driving distance of a Wal-Mart and the retailer has been struggling in grocery, which provides more than half of Wal-Mart’s revenues.
But Target has been down this road before, and has historically aimed to shy away from a direct price war with Wal-Mart (which it has found it simply cannot win), in favor of offering exclusive items from top designers.
In its corporate blog post Thursday, Wal-Mart appeared to answer that call, too, saying that it would be highlighting products shoppers “wouldn’t expect to find at Wal-Mart.” But Wal-Mart has tried that in the past, with little success.
Such a move to change up its merchandise is "extraordinarily difficult," Columbia University business school retail studies professor Mark Cohen told Retail Dive earlier this year. “You’re talking about the changing of the tide, and not just from the product development point of view. Wal-Mart has thousands of stores and thousands of people," he said. "Wal-Mart has an embedded culture, and the attempts they’ve made to change have failed largely because they’ve failed to change that culture.”
This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2016 holiday shopping season. You can browse our holiday page for more stories.