Walmart’s Black Friday strategy this year? No (or at least fewer) gimmicks

November 12, 2015, 5:01 AM UTC
Walmart's Black Friday Starts Strong in Bentonville
Customers wrap up their holiday shopping during Walmart's Black Friday events on Thursday November 27, 2014 in Bentonville, Ark. Deep savings continue at Walmart Friday though Cyber Monday as part of five days of events in stores and online. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart/AP Images)
Photograph by Gunnar Rathbun — Invision for Walmart

Walmart (WMT) says it is done with Black Friday lures that only end up frustrating shoppers.

The retail giant is keenly aware of how easily shoppers can take their business elsewhere in what is already a ferociously competitive holiday season. So, Walmart has ordered a ton more merchandise ahead of Thanksgiving and Black Friday to make sure it doesn’t disappoint customers looking for the big doorbuster deals and, in the process, send them into the arms of (AMZN), Target (TGT), Best Buy (BBY), and others of that ilk.

Walmart, which has been working hard to improve in-store customer service and prevent out-of-stocks that frustrate shoppers, is eschewing the old retail practice of heavily advertising doorbuster items to lure shoppers into stores, only for those customers to miss out because of super limited quantities.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than either sleeping out a week before the event, or making the effort to cut short what you’re doing on Thanksgiving, only to get into the store and find out that, gee, ‘How many did the store have?’ Four of them,” Greg Foran, chief executive of Walmart U.S., told reporters on Wednesday on a store tour in Secaucus, New Jersey.

The move comes as Walmart’s customer service scores have risen to their highest levels in two years, thanks to efforts by Foran to make sure stores are cleaner, better stocked, and staffed with associates interested in helping out customers.

While the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend doesn’t necessarily make or break a retailer’s holiday season, it is crucial to get off on the right foot and entice shoppers to come back time and again, particularly during the last weekend before Christmas, which is a far bigger generator of sales than Black Friday.

Making sure shelves are amply stocked is just part of Walmart efforts to eschew what chief merchandising officer Steve Bratspies recently called “gimmicks” by other retailers, such as “this-weekend-only” type deals. Over the course of the holiday season, Walmart will hold fewer sales events this year and instead offer longer lasting discounts on more items.

Shoppers want a “simplified, less confusing” experience, Bratspies said.

For the first time ever, Walmart will offer the vast majority of its Black Friday deals, 96%, both online (starting on Thanksgiving at 3:01 a.m. Eastern time) and in stores (at 6 p.m. local time). Best Buy and Target are also following that strategy.

Walmart is bringing back its one-hour guarantee for a few key items (including an iPad Air 2 Gold and Beats Studio headphones), so that that if a store runs out after 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving, shoppers can still get the product.

“We bought really deep this year on TVs, toys, and many other products, so that hundreds of customers in every store, not tens, are going to get the product they’re looking for,” Bratspies said, noting that Walmart expects record store traffic on Black Friday weekend.

But what about over-ordering, and running the risk of unsold merchandise having to be sold at clearance and decimating profit margins? Foran says the company has enough data to correctly predict what it needs and that he is “happy” with inventory levels.

“We’re not going to be the retailer that broadcasts a great price on Black Friday, and then the customers come to the store and can’t get what they want,” said Bratspies. “We have the inventory.”

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