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Target shoppers can now make reservations to avoid holiday crowds

The big-box retailer is rolling out new safety measures, including expanded pickup and delivery options

Retailers have adopted a range of protocols to minimize crowds, long lines and repeat shopping trips during the pandemic. Target is giving shoppers the option to reserve time slots to avoid lines. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)
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At a time when the thought of holiday crowds might be more frightening than festive, Target is introducing a new safety measure: reservations.

Retailers have adopted a range of protocols to minimize crowds, long lines and repeat shopping trips during the pandemic. Most large retailers offer curbside pickup and contactless checkout to accommodate social distancing, and many have scrapped such Black Friday traditions as Thanksgiving Day openings and “doorbuster” deals to fill their stores. But shopping by appointment is uncommon among retailers.

“Given that Target is a very popular holiday destination, the new system makes sense in terms of both keeping people safe and giving customers a convenient tool that prevents them having to wait ages outside the store,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail in New York, said in an email to The Washington Post. “During the pandemic Target has been a savvy operator and has used both online and its stores to drive sales. This is another example of how Target is using digital technology to improve the store experience.”

Some national chains, including Best Buy, Williams Sonoma and West Elm, instituted mandatory store appointments early in the pandemic, though most have since lifted those requirements. Others such as Suitsupply and Chico’s now offer appointments to interested shoppers. Shoppers can also reserve time slots at local grocery stores and farmers markets using OpenTable, the restaurant reservation site.

Target chief executive Brian Cornell said during a media call Wednesday that the reservation system “could be very important during the holiday season” but that he does not anticipate using it on a regular basis. “But some measures, like contact-free shopping, are here to stay.”

During the holidays, shoppers can visit to see if there is a line outside their local store and reserve a spot. They’ll be notified when it’s their turn to shop.

Other new safety measures include contactless self-checkout anywhere in-store through Target’s Wallet app, double the parking for Target’s popular Drive Up services, and expanded same-day delivery and pickup offerings, the company said.

This holiday season, Target has said it plans to keep seasonal hiring in line with last year — about 130,000 positions at its nearly 1,000 stores around the country. But it’s doubling the number of employees helping with curbside and in-store pickup and hiring more full-time and seasonal warehouse employees to meet growing demand.

The Minneapolis-based retailer has seen a windfall in the pandemic as shoppers flocked to its curbside and online services. Last quarter, Target’s online and in-store sales rose more than 24 percent, driving profits up 80 percent to more than $1.7 billion.

“The success of our business strategy rests on the strength of our team and their ability to adjust quickly to the needs of our guests and their changing shopping patterns,” Melissa Kremer, Target’s chief human resources officer, said in a news release.

There’s a lot riding on the holiday shopping season this year. More than a dozen major retailers have filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic, and several others are at risk of running out of cash. The recession wiped out millions of jobs, so Americans are expected to spend less this year — both because of their own financial situations and because there will be fewer opportunities to exchange gifts with family, friends and co-workers.

Shoppers are planning to visit the fewest stores on record this holiday shopping season, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail survey, with the average shopper planning to visit 5.2 stores. The average household expects to spend $1,387 during the 2020 holiday season, down 7 percent from last year.

Abha Bhattarai contributed to this report.