Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday shopping battle heats up

NEW YORK — From free shipping from Walmart to Sears stores open on Thanksgiving for the first time, the battle for holiday shoppers' dollars has begun in earnest.
The early competition to break through shoppers' caution about spending promises savings for those willing to buy amid an economy that's still worrying many. It also promises convenience. Retailers are offering deals anytime, anywhere their customers want, through websites, smart phones and Facebook.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically kicks off holiday shopping, is not only being marketed as "Black Friday week," but for a growing number of stores, "Black Friday month."

As for Thanksgiving, some retailers like Sears and Gap's Old Navy hope shoppers will head to stores after they finish their turkey feasts. On the Web, Kohl's Corp. and Target Corp. are among many merchants dramatically stepping up deals that day, counting on that holiday to be one of the busiest days of the year online.

"Everything is faster and sooner," said Dan Grandpre, editor-in-chief of, which opened an office in Dublin, Ireland, a few months ago to monitor the frenetic pace of offers, particularly during the holidays. Dealnews is based in Huntsville, Ala.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is clearly going for the jugular in the holiday retailing fight. It announced Thursday that it will offer free shipping on nearly 60,000 online items — with no minimum purchase requirement. The offer, which includes most electronics, jewelry and toys, will run through Dec. 20. Return shipping is also free, or items can be returned to a local store.

Wal-Mart's free offer comes on top of similarly aggressive free shipping programs from Target and J.C. Penney. Wal-Mart's deal adds to the discounter's Site to Store program, which lets customers buy an item online and have it shipped free to their local Walmart store for pickup. is even testing a service at nearly 800 stores that lets customers see inventory and purchase products right from home. The online orders usually are ready to be picked up at a store within four hours.

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