Halloween weekend is shaping up to be a big event for retailers—just not for the reason you might think.
Although many consumers plan to extend their Halloween celebrations past Friday, Wal-Mart on Saturday will shift its focus from orange and black to red and green, when it kicks off its first round of holiday deals.
The world's largest retailer joins the likes of Amazon, Office Depot and OfficeMax, which are also launching their first holiday deals over the weekend, in what's already shaping up to be another highly promotional holiday.
"As soon as they put away their Halloween costumes, our customers start prepping for Thanksgiving, buying Christmas trees and shopping for gifts," said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S. "They want the best deals now."
Starting Saturday, Wal-Mart will offer discounts on 20,000 items spanning groceries, toys and electronics, as it tries to reestablish itself as the low-price leader. In addition to this broader assortment of deals compared to a year ago, the company will offer free shipping on its top 100 gifts, removing its minimum-purchase threshold of $50. These items were compiled by Wal-Mart's merchandising team and include board games and licensed "Frozen" products.
Then on Monday, Wal-Mart will once again hold a 24-hour online sales event, which will feature 15 "Black Friday and Cyber-Monday-like deals," double the number from last year.
Wal-Mart offered deals at the beginning of November last season, as well, though they were more web-focused. This year, the retailer's goal is to spread its discounts across stores, its mobile app and the internet. It's also better integrating its physical and digital presences, allowing shoppers the option for same-day in-store pickup on its early Cyber Monday deals.
"It's all about being able to give the customer everything they're looking for," said Steve Bratspies, executive vice president, general merchandise for Walmart U.S.
Wal-Mart has intensified its focus on digital commerce since last holiday, recently announcing it will boost its investments in the category from $1 billion to between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion next year. The retailer also confirmed in a call with the media that it is considering matching prices of online competitors such as Amazon.
For the Christmas season, the company is boosting its online assortment to 7 million items—1 million more than it had last year. Also new to the retailer's résumé: a "Search My Store" feature on its mobile app that allows customers to see if a nearby store has a particular item, and identifies where in the store it's located.
Despite these initiatives and Wal-Mart's promise to "win on price," Bratspies admitted that the promotional environment is already "starting to heat up." In addition to Amazon's announcement that it will kick off its holiday promotions on Saturday, Target said last week that it will offer free shipping on all of its online purchases through Dec. 20.
"I would expect it to be at least as competitive as last year," Bratspies said. "It rarely goes backward."