When it comes to the war on Christmas, Walmart (WMT) may be giving a new meaning to the phrase.
This holiday season, the retailer is bringing out every weapon at its disposal to convince consumers to come back through its doors. That ranges from 20,000 price cuts, or "rollbacks," about doubling the number it typically offers throughout the year, to vowing to match prices from national competitors in the week before Black Friday.
The holiday shopping season is serious business not just for Walmart, but for all retailers, with Black Friday earning its moniker because it's typically the day when stores' balance sheets go into the "black" for the year. But with the average American worker suffering from stagnant wages, many consumers are determined to seek out bargains, free shipping and promotional offers, which means store loyalty might take second place to low prices or the convenience of shopping online.
"The challenge for Walmart, and really all brick and mortar retailers, is that the Internet is really just convenient, and you'll never make [brick-and-mortar stores] more convenient than the Internet," Ted Marzilli, chief executive of BrandIndex, told CBS MoneyWatch. "Walmart's rollbacks help, but so many retailers advertising price matching that I wonder if that really resonates with consumers. It might not be enough to get people to come back to a Walmart store."
For their part, Walmart executives well aware of the challenges facing them this season.
"We expect this holiday season to be highly competitive," Greg Foran, president and chief executive of Walmart U.S., said on a conference call with analysts earlier this month.
Despite Walmart's efforts to win back customers, it's facing some strong headwinds. For one, some consumers are switching to online rivals such as Amazon.com (AMZN), which is eating into Walmart's market share. The average shopper will do 44 percent of their holiday shopping online this year, the highest percentage recorded since the National Retail Federation began tracking that topic.
Heading into the holiday season, Amazon has a "wide lead" over Walmart and other retailers for purchase consideration, according to YouGov's BrandIndex, which tracks public attitudes toward corporate brands. Two-thirds of consumers say they'd opt to buy from Amazon the next time they want to make a purchase, the study found. That represents an 11 percentage point lead ahead of Walmart.
"Ultimately, we feel we have the inventory and assortment -- at the right price -- that will bring customers to our stores this holiday season," a Walmart spokeswoman told CBS MoneyWatch.
Walmart, which has been struggling to get customers back through its doors, has seen some recent success, however. After almost two years of declining same-store sales, the retailer said its third-quarter comparable store sales, or those locations that have been open for at least a year, rose 0.5 percent.
At the heart of Walmart's holiday strategy this year is a new approach to Black Friday. Instead of focusing on the day after Thanksgiving to kick off holiday sales, the retailer is spreading out deals across five days.
"Black Friday has become Black Friday week," Walmart chief merchandising officer Duncan Mac Naughton told reporters on a conference call earlier this month. "Customers are telling us they want to shop when they want to shop."
On a positive note for Walmart, consumers are noticing its efforts to get the word out about its promotions. The retailer scored the highest among adults 18 and older who are aware of seeing recent advertisements, beating out Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY), BrandIndex found.
"You would certainly rather be at the top of advertising awareness than at the bottom," Marzilli notes. The result is a sign that Walmart is "breaking through the noise" and getting consumers' attention.
Walmart on Wednesday said it would start its "Pre-Black Friday" event on Nov. 21, when it will offer price matching for competing Black Friday offers from other retailers on items such as PlayStation 4 game consoles, Lego sets, and 60-inch televisions from LG and Sony.
In a statement, Walmart's Naughton said the move was spurred by the "incredibly competitive" holiday season, and customers' desire for low prices. Of course, the proof will come in the plum pudding, and that won't be until Walmart reports its financial results in early 2015.