To better compete, brick-and-mortar stores figured that they’d have to replicate their online rivals’ formula this holiday season. So stores began trying new ways to make shopping more convenient last year, such as free shipping and expanded hours.
But this holiday season, they’ve expanded the scope and scale of those incentives to include:
Expanded hours: Black Friday openings have crept earlier and earlier over the past few years, with retailers such as Macy’s Inc. opening stores at midnight. This season, some stores have expanded their hours even more: department-store chain Sears, toy-store chain Toys R Us, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and others are opening on Thanksgiving.
More shipping and return options: About 44 percent of retailers are offering free shipping this year, a jump from 12.5 percent last year, said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org, the National Retail Federation’s digital retail division. And package delivery company UPS said retailers also are working to make returns easier, by including return labels in packages or providing a link online that customers can use to print labels out.
Layaway plans: Typically, shoppers have to pay a fee for layaways. This year, Wal-Mart lowered the fee it charges customers on its holiday layaway program from $15 to $5. Sears and Kmart ditched the fee they charge completely. The two stores previously had charged $5 for an 8-week layaway and $10 for 12 weeks.
Price matching: While small mom-and-pop stores long have offered to match the cheaper prices that customers find online, this year big merchants such as Target and Best Buy have said they also will do that.