Wal-Mart, Target each take cue from the other for holidays

Published 8:22 pm Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart and Target are each taking a cue from the other this holiday season.

After years of emphasizing low prices, Wal-Mart wants to up the ante, but it also wants to be known for top customer service. Target, which has a better image in that regard, has stressed a focus on offering deals.

The shift underscores how traditional retailers have to perfect every aspect of their operations as shoppers who could easily shop online instead become more demanding about price, selection and service. With online leader Amazon.com cementing customers with its juggernaut Amazon Prime shipping service, retailers like Target and Wal-Mart need to offer more exclusive merchandise.

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Heading into the critical holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart has the momentum. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company raised its profit outlook in August after reporting its eighth consecutive quarterly increase in a key revenue measure. Target had cut its profit forecast as customer traffic fell for the first time in a year and a half during the second quarter. Its key revenue measure also fell.

“Wal-Mart has been benefiting from better service and for this holiday season, it should be a boon,” said Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics LLC. “I expect Wal-Mart will outpace Target. Target has a big price hurdle.”

On service

Wal-Mart has been working to improve service in its stores, and its move to raise wages and increase training for hourly workers has helped.

For the end of the year, 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 someone forgot.