By Parija Kavilanz, CNN Business
Halloween is still a month away, but Walmart is ready for Christmas.
Walmart on Thursday said it’s getting the ball rolling on its year-end holiday shopping season at its stores and online as early as next month.
Noting that more than half of its customers make their holiday shopping plans in October, the retailer said it will start offering deeper deals on popular gift categories such as toys, home decor, electronics and beauty products.
At the same time, Walmart said it also has boosted supplies of what it expects will be holiday hot sellers, including TVs, tablets, wireless headphones and phones, robotic vacuums and furniture.
“We know that our customers’ wallets are under pressure and value is always top of mind. They trust us to consistently offer low prices on their everyday essentials, and we want to make it easy for them to find that same value when holiday shopping, which is starting earlier than ever this year,” said Tom Ward, executive vice president and chief eCommerce officer for Walmart U.S., in an interview with CNNBusiness.
Ward declined to provide details on the level of discounting that shoppers can expect to see from Walmart this year and how it compares to last year’s deals.
The retailer said it is also changing its return policy for Walmart and Walmart+ subscription service customers to give this year’s early gift shoppers more time to make returns.
Walmart said purchases made on or after October 1 can be returned through January 31, 2023. And customers can make returns in a variety of ways, it said, including inside the store, curbside returns at Walmart stores and pick up from home for Walmart+ members.
Given the company’s status as an industry bellwether, it’s too soon to say whether Walmart’s earlier-than-usual holiday push could trigger other retailers to follow suit.
Neil Saunders, retail analyst and managing director at GlobalData Retail, anticipates that they will.
“It won’t be the only one doing so, as Amazon is likely to run some kind of deal day in late October and other retailers will join in with various discounts and promotions,” said Saunders.
Still, he added, Walmart is “sensible to press the button on its holiday efforts at an early stage.”
“Consumers are going to start holiday shopping earlier this year as they look to spread the costs at a time when household incomes are being squeezed. This is especially so among more hard-pressed consumers, where Walmart plays strongly,” he said.
Dangling all these early deals, however, may not ignite a shopping frenzy during the most important sales period of the year for retailers, which historically commences in earnest on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
Households nationwide continue to grapple with persistent high inflation that eats into their budgets and savings, forcing them to cut back.
Consulting firm Deloitte expects holiday retail sales overall for the key year-end gift-buying months of November, December and January (when Christmas gift cards typically are redeemed) to increase 4% to 6%, sharply down from a robust 15.1% increase for the same time frame last year.
While families will buy gifts, they might trim their gift lists this year to include fewer family and friends.
“Overall, there will still be sales growth but it won’t be as dramatic as last year,” said Rod Sides, vice chair with Deloitte and head of its US retail and distribution practice. “If there are fewer gift purchases by consumers, expect to see even more holiday promotions than ever.”
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