It’s beginning to look a lot like last year’s holiday shopping season.
Target Corp. said Thursday it’s bringing back many elements of its 2014 holiday strategy that was considered a successful moment for the company, including free shipping on any online order, a half-priced daily toy deal on its Cartwheel app and an updated Wish List app for children.
“Our strategy for the holiday hasn’t changed dramatically,” Chief Executive Brian Cornell said in an interview. “But we’re going to do a few things differently as we continue to expand and refine our playbook.”
One of those new twists is the ability for Target.com shoppers to buy and ship items to more than 200 countries. It’s a feature that will stick around after the holidays are over.
Meanwhile, rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is once again launching thousands of price rollbacks across the store starting Sunday — Nov. 1 — that will stay in place for three months as it did last year. And it is once again holding the line on free shipping even though both Target and Best Buy are offering it this year. Instead, Wal-Mart will keep intact its $50 minimum size order requirement to qualify for free online shipping and will encourage shoppers to use its buy-online-pickup-in-store service.
“The vast majority of our orders today [qualify for] free shipping or free pickup,” Fernando Madeira, president of Walmart.com, told reporters Thursday in a conference call. “Customers understand the way we do that.”
Also on Thursday, Macy’s announced that it will open its stores at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving — the same time as it did last year.
So why are retailers sticking to the same game plan as last year?
“When you look back at what Target and Wal-Mart did last year, overall both of them did a pretty good job last holiday and had some pretty good results,” said Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst with Edward Jones. “So it’s probably one of those things where if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Both retailers are preparing for a bigger crush of online and mobile shopping. Wal-Mart said it expects about 75 percent of its online traffic over the holidays to come from mobile devices.
Retailers are also betting big on memorabilia related to the Dec. 18 premiere of the latest installment in the “Star Wars” movie franchise. Target said it is stocking about 600 “Star Wars” items in stores, which is on par with the number of items it carried last year related to Disney’s “Frozen.” Target will run ads featuring children dressed as Stormtroopers during previews before the movie in theaters.
This year, Target is also investing more in store presentation. It is in the process of hiring 1,400 visual merchandisers — a new, year-round position in each of its stores — to spruce up its displays.
In addition, Target is also expanding some of its newer services such as curbside pickup which will be up and running next week at 121 stores in markets such as Philadelphia and Chicago. And it will extend its partnership with grocery delivery service Instacart to the San Francisco area after piloting it in Minneapolis for the last two months.
Bullseye, Target’s bull terrier mascot, will play a more prominent role in store displays and holiday ads this year. For starters, Target is rebranding its “One Spot” bargain bins area near the entrance of stores to “Bullseye’s Playground,” a name that will continue after the holidays. While it will still have a $1 to $3 price range, the assortment will be slightly different.
Bullseye will also have a starring role in Target’s 12 TV holiday commercials, which will chronicle the holiday journey of the dog and three children in what Target is calling “The Holiday Odyssey.”
The ads, which will start Nov. 4, will also touch on major events of the holiday shopping season such as the mid-November launch of Adele’s new album, which is expected to be a big seller for Target since the retailer is carrying an exclusive version with three extra tracks.
Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy will, of course, be open on Black Friday, which, while diminishing in importance, is still a big shopping day for them.
Outdoor retailer REI made headlines this week when it announced it would stay closed on Black Friday this year and would encourage its employees to do something outside instead. But for the bigger mass market companies, that is harder to do.
“If we decided not to be open on Black Friday, we’d have guests rebelling,” Cornell said. “They’d be knocking on the door, wondering how to get in.”