The weather outside might be frightfully hot, but Walmart (WMT) is hoping that won't keep consumers from getting into the holiday mood.
The world's second-largest retailer is planning a holiday push this month, opening its holiday layaway program on Aug. 28, or two weeks earlier than last year. Walmart will also debut a Toy Week on Friday, Sept. 4 that will include items tied to the December release of the new "Star Wars" film, "The Force Awakens."
While the holiday shopping season once was relegated to the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, retailers have been pushing back sales and promotions even earlier during the past few years. Such holiday creep may help the stores gain an edge in an ever-more competitive landscape. Walmart, for its part, needs to gain whatever upper hand it can, given its efforts to reverse a sales slump.
"Every year it's gotten earlier and earlier," notes Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains, a deal and coupon site. "Last year it was September. They are all trying to start before their competitors. Walmart probably has to make sure they get attention before Target gets the attention."
Of course, Target already organized an effort to get consumers thinking about holiday shopping -- in July. Amazon, for its part, debuted its "Prime Day" the same month, hoping to win over consumers with deep discounts on products like Kindle Fires and household items. Consumers were underwhelmed with Amazon's promotion, which was criticized for discounts that weren't deep enough and limited supplies.
Walmart, for its part, is tying its early holiday push to one of the most anticipated films of 2015. The chain will hold "Force Friday" events at 2,900 stores on Sept. 4 to introduce the new line of "Star Wars" toys. Its website, Walmart.com, is already taking pre-orders for a $180 toy called the "Legendary Jedi Master Yoda," a robotic Yoda who speaks 115 phrases and wields a lightsaber.
While the retailer is certainly hoping to tap into the power of the Force, they may need more than some Jedi mind tricks to convince consumers to start thinking about holiday shopping before Labor Day.