Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) decided to hammer its competition by matching some Black Friday prices one week before Black Friday. The move could drive down Walmart's margins on a number of items. However, it has the balance sheet to weather the damage. The companies the deals target -- Target Corp. (TGT), Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY) and Toys"R"Us -- are not as powerful financially. Walmart also has the foot traffic to turn its decision into a near certain success.
Walmart needs a "win" over the holidays as much as any other retailer. Its U.S. sales have been lackluster, and it claims the breakdown of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act could undermine consumer spending substantially. In addition, many analysts believe that holiday retail sales in general will be short of many rosy estimates put out in October.
In a statement about its plans, Walmart management announced:
Holiday shoppers don't have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for deals at Walmart. At 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, Walmart will kick off a pre-Black Friday savings event in stores and online, lowering the prices on popular toys and electronics, to match select Black Friday offers from Target, Toys R' Us and Best Buy one week early.
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Beginning today, the retailer also extends its Christmas Ad Match to Walmart.com customers. Customers who purchase an item on Walmart.com, and find a lower price in a local brick and mortar competitor, can email email@example.com and receive the difference on a gift card. The same policy is in place for customers at Walmart stores for items purchased Nov. 1 through Dec. 24, excluding Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.
The decision about online pricing challenges Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) while the huge e-commerce retailer prepares for another season in which it intends to steal sales from its bricks-and-mortar competition.
Indirectly, the chains that will be hurt can be numbered among the most troubled. Any price matching action by any highly successful large retailer can pull revenue from J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) and the Kmart and Sears divisions of Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD). To the extent that holiday sales are a zero sum game for the national store chains, J.C. Penney and Sears suffer from any money spent at Walmart.
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Walmart may have targeted Best Buy, Toys"R"Us and Target. In the process, it has set a challenge to sales across the entire retail industry.