NEW YORK » Wal-Mart announced a new strategy that it hopes will pull in procrastinators early by giving them a big incentive: a guarantee that they’ll get the lowest price no matter when they buy during the holiday season.
The discounter said Monday it will match prices on many of its products. Shoppers who buy something at a Walmart store between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25, but then find the identical product elsewhere for less, can get a gift card in the amount of the difference.
The offer excludes some items, such as groceries.
To qualify, shoppers need to bring in the original Wal-Mart receipt and the local competitor’s print ad. Gift cards will not be given out after Dec. 25.
"The greatest gift we can give our customers this holiday is great low prices on the things they want most," said Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising officer at Wal-Mart’s U.S. division, in a statement. "Wal-Mart is easing shopping stress this Christmas by allowing customers to shop when and how they want, all while guaranteeing low prices through the entire holiday season."
The holiday price guarantee builds on Wal-Mart’s aggressive everyday price-matching strategy and comes as the world’s largest retailer aims to solidify its position as the low price leader and reverse nine straight quarters of declines in revenue at stores opened at least a year in its U.S. namesake business.
The move also raises the competitive stakes for the 2011 holiday season, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of retailers’ annual revenue. With the job market still weak and the stock market in turmoil, shoppers are focusing on grabbing the lowest price and are using their smartphones to check rivals’ prices in the store aisles and walking away if they’re not getting the best deal.
Heading into the holiday season, a growing number of stores, including Staples Inc. and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., are even matching prices with online-only merchants like Amazon.com to convert browsers into buyers.
Wal-Mart’s price matching for the holidays still excludes Internet retailers, but clearly the latest announcement underscores the discounter’s need to hammer its low-price message even more in a bid to bring back customers it had lost.
Wal-Mart’s U.S. business has been in a slump because of mistakes it made on price and selection. The company is reversing that weak trend and has seen three straight months of revenue gains, starting in July, as it finishes up restoring thousands of products it culled during an overzealous bid to de-clutter its stores.
But reclaiming its reputation as the lowest-prices leader is critical to sustain the improving sales trend. The company, based in Bentonville, Ark., strayed from its bedrock philosophy of "everyday" low prices, and late last year, switched back to emphasizing low prices across the whole store, instead of promoting select items.
This past April, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched a series of ad campaigns focusing on its low prices and said it was directing store employees to comb through competitors’ advertisements so price matches at the register would be easier.
But with the latest incentive, Wal-Mart is offering an even more hassle-free way of guaranteeing shoppers they’ll get the best price and giving shoppers more of a reason to go to Wal-Mart first for their holiday needs.
Shoppers don’t have to bring back purchases to Wal-Mart in order to take advantage of better prices elsewhere. They just need to bring in the receipt and the local printed ad to the customer service desk.
Furthermore, even items placed on layaway will be eligible for the company’s "Christmas Price Guarantee" program. Wal-Mart is also hoping to tap into another stream of revenue — by giving shoppers the price difference in the gift cards, it’s hoping customers will come back and spend more than the value of the card.