The Washington Post

Wal-Mart kicks off online holiday shopping deals

Put away the pumpkins and bring out the stockings.

Wal-Mart declared the holiday shopping season open by kicking off a selection of online deals Friday, nearly a month ahead of its usual Thanksgiving schedule. The offers included discounts on electronics and toys usually reserved for Black Friday. A 42-inch JVC television for $300 had sold out online by 10 a.m.

Wal-Mart’s move is the latest sign that retailers are scrambling to make the most of a shortened holiday season through early promotions and aggressive marketing. There are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than last year.

Retailers are also responding to consumers’ desires to start holiday shopping earlier, said Alison Paul, vice chairman at Deloitte, a consulting company.

The company’s 2013 holiday survey found that the share of Americans who said they expect to finish shopping in November was five percentage points higher than last year. And most of those surveyed said they will be looking for online deals.

For the first time in 15 years, the Internet was listed as the top destination for holiday shopping, edging out discount retailers, Paul said. That is another reason retailers are promoting their deals earlier this season, she said.

“We’re raising the stakes,” Wal-Mart spokesman Ravi Jariwala said. The retailer chose Nov. 1 to kick off its holiday campaign, he said, because usually experiences “a spike” in online traffic the day after Halloween.

Wal-Mart is not alone. A slew of major retailers announced holiday discounts this week.

Target said its price-match policy — where it matches competitor’s prices for certain items — launched Friday as usual, but will last longer this year. Toys R Us unveiled offers for loyalty program customers, including a pre-Black Friday deal that would give shoppers access to discounts two days early. Last month, Macy’s, J.C. Penney and others said they will open on Thanksgiving Day for the first time.

Apart from facing a short holiday season, retailers have to persuade Americans to open their wallets in a gloomy economy. Consumer confidence took a plunge last month, following the government shutdown and a weak jobs report. The back-to-school shopping season was lackluster, and shoppers are expected to remain cautious this holiday season. Free shipping, online deals and personalized offers are some of the ways retailers will try to make up for it, analysts say.

Holiday sales are forecast to rise nearly 4 percent this year, up from 3.5 percent in 2012, according to the National Retail Federation. Online sales are expected to be 15 percent higher than last year.

Amrita Jayakumar covers national startups, small business issues and entrepreneurship.
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