Pulling out all the stops for the make-or-break holiday season, Walmart is heavily promoting its free layaway program, aiming for 25 billion media impressions, and streamlining Black Friday's shopping experience by giving out wristbands to shoppers waiting for guaranteed one-hour special bargains.
Claiming the world's largest retailer will have the number-one "share of voice" throughout the holiday shopping season with 25 billion media impressions, Walmart U.S. president Bill Simon recently told analysts that the company announced its holiday specials online earlier this year than last — with early bird specials on the site as of Nov. 1 — and is offering free shipping for orders of $50 or higher.
Customers have been taking advantage of Walmart's no-opening-fee layaway program to set aside popular items such as videogame consoles, tablets and CDs. "We know the customer continues to be challenged by ongoing uncertainty around healthcare cost," Simon said, adding that payroll tax increases and SNAP reductions are factors affecting consumer demand.
The retailer directs customers to walmart.com for product research, maps and shopping tips to help prepare for Black Friday and their shopping needs throughout the season. Black Friday in particular should be an orderly event this year; Walmart associates will distribute wristbands to customers seeking guaranteed one-hour specials so that shoppers can browse throughout the store instead of spending all of their time waiting in line to get one specific product, and perhaps boost their final basket value in doing so.
"While other retailers may have limited quantities [of advertised specials], as long as you are in our stores during the event times we guarantee you will get one," explained Simon.
In addition to one-hour guarantees on hot items such as a 16GB iPad mini Wi-Fi ($299 plus $100 Walmart gift card) and a Furby Boom ($29), the retailer also will "be the exclusive destination for several new products," according to Simon. What's more, the company is including seven times more one-hour guaranteed products than in 2012. For Cyber Monday, Walmart plans specials both online and in-store for what Simon called a "truly integrated experience." The company is also promoting its Christmas Ad Match program, which enables associates to honor lower prices advertised elsewhere if shoppers bring in a competitor's circular.
Despite guarantees of key merchandise being in stock for its "aggressive" holiday push, Walmart reported that inventory holdings at the end of the third quarter grew by just 5.1%, a notable decrease from the 6.9% growth at the close of Q2.
E-commerce has been a bright spot for Walmart as its global online business, present in 10 countries, grew by 40% in the third quarter alone, fueled by the Yihaodian acquisition in China. To foster continued growth, the retailer is investing in a new Fort Worth, Texas, fulfillment center and working harder to integrate e-commerce with its business units.
Over the past 12 months, Walmart's assortment of online SKUs has more than doubled from 2 million to greater than 5 million. "We are also investing in our digital platform, building fulfillment facilities to further enable convergence, improve shipping speed and drive supply chain efficiencies," Simon added.
The retailer is looking to its Express stores, a scaled-down version of the traditional big-box brick-and-mortar store, as a key factor in its future growth. "We're utilizing our small formats to develop the market ecosystem that is a critical part of our long-term growth strategy," Walmart president and CEO Mike Duke said of the company's newly announced plan to link its many regional assets, from DCs to supercenters and Express stores. The retailer already is using savings from efficiencies in supply chain, logistics and operations to help keep consumer prices low.
Also central to corporate growth, according to Duke, are Walmart's efforts in compliance, which it invested in during the third quarter via improvements to processes and procedures, robust associate training and stronger organizational leadership.
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