"Because Wal-Mart will offer customers great prices on both Friday and Saturday as the Christmas shopping season moves into high gear," a Wal-Mart spokesperson says, it has "officially recommended the world's official time keeper consider a radical move: creating a week with two Fridays."
The letter to Lord Rees asks: "Does a week always have to contain seven days? And do those days always have to be the seven we're accustomed to?"
While there's no word on whether Wal-Mart will get its wish, "all this creativity from retailers is evidence that they are very nervous about the coming holiday season," says Kathy Sheehan, senior vice president of GfK Roper Consulting. "With the credit crisis, there's plenty of concern that this will be a soft season, and retailers are strategizing as never before to get people into their stores."
Wal-Mart has been steadily cutting prices for the upcoming holiday season since Halloween, weeks ahead of the normal retail schedule. Its latest announcement says it is now moving Black Friday up a day, with specials that start on Thanksgiving itself. The company is posting its entire Black Friday circular online, including "Secret In-Store Specials," such as a Kitchen Aid Classic Stand Mixer for $139. And it will also advertise in-store specials on its site.
"It's time to expand 'Black Friday' into three full days for the millions who want this convenience and need these savings," the company says in its announcement. Many of the price cuts are deep, including 60% off a Motorola H670 Bluetooth Earset, 30% off a Garmin Nuvi 650 Portable GPS System, and $100 off certain LCD HDTVs.
Wal-Mart definitely has a leg up in the Black Friday marathon. A new poll from Compete shows that the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is the No. 1 Black Friday destination for shoppers, with 34% of those polled saying Wal-Mart will be their first stop Friday morning. Best Buy comes in second with 18%, followed by Target, 16%, Macy's 9%, Circuit City, 5%, Sears, 4% and Kohl's 3%. "Other stores" total 11%.
And it's also no accident that the Web figures so centrally in Wal-Mart's holiday marketing strategy. A recent survey from shop.org, part of the National Retail Federation, finds that the Internet will influence 30.2% of holiday sales this year, up from 28.9% last year.
Still, Sheehan points out, retailers like Wal-Mart are especially vulnerable to the softer economy. Overall, GfK Roper Consulting's October poll on consumer confidence found that 48% of U.S. shoppers are uncertain about the economy, and 39% say they've experienced either job or housing distress in the last six months. And among those earning less than $50,000, who are more likely to have suffered an economic setback, Sheehan says, it tends to be higher: Almost half in that group say they have experienced some kind of financial distress in the last six months.
And while one in three polled say there will be less spent on gifts this year, one in two of those who have struggled financially plan to cut back on the gift budget.
And meanwhile, Wal-Mart still has its own We-hate-Wal-Mart holiday elves to deal with. WakeUpWalMart.com just unveiled plans for its third-annual "Hope for the Holidays" campaign, and says it will spend $1.5 million on radio ads that highlight what it says are questionable safety practices. The ads point out that 70% of goods on Wal-Mart's shelves come from China, and that Wal-Mart has recalled "more than 25 dangerous products." Ads will run throughout the week.
WakeUpWalMart cites a poll, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which finds that 60% of frequent Wal-Mart shoppers are uneasy buying Chinese goods.
For its part, Wal-Mart last week announced that it had stepped up its Toy Safety Net Program, and that since August, it has tested more than 12,000 toys.