Wal-Mart pushes service for holiday; Target stresses value

Published 10:40 am Thursday, October 27, 2016

TETERBORO, N.J. — Wal-Mart, long known for emphasizing low prices, wants to be known this holiday season for superior customer service. That comes after its main rival Target, which has a better image in that regard, stressed a focus on offering deals.

The world’s largest retailer plans to deploy “holiday helpers” stationed at the checkouts, who can direct customers to registers with shorter lines or even run back to the aisles to pick up an item a customer forgot.

The ways in which Target and Wal-Mart are each trying to be more like the other underscore how traditional retailers have to raise their game in every aspect as shoppers who could easily shop online instead become more demanding about price, selection and service. Now, they have to be good at everything.

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Wal-Mart has been working to improve service in its stores, but it’s especially critical for the holiday season. It’s adding additional staff to handle the pickup of online orders at the stores, and for the first time, it’s designating a manager for that area for the holiday season. It also is dramatically adding more items that will be available for pickup. During the holiday season, Wal-Mart sees five times as many same-day pickup orders compared to a normal week. The goal: To make sure shoppers have an easy experience when they come to collect their orders.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer also plans to have 150,000 product demonstrations across its more than 4,600 U.S. stores, in departments from toys to food. That’s up from last year. And Santas who used to remain stationary in one area of the store will roam around for more customer interaction. It expects about 23,000 appearances across its stores throughout the season.

“We want to serve the customer as they want to be served,” Wal-Mart’s Chief Operating Officer Judith McKenna, said at a store in Teterboro, New Jersey, on Wednesday.

Target, meanwhile, said Tuesday that about 60 percent of its marketing message this holiday season will be about value, up about 20 percent from last year. The Minneapolis-based retailer is repeating some of last year’s promotions but also adding new ones aimed at getting shoppers to more areas of the store.

Heading into the holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart has the momentum.