Wal-Mart bets on mobile

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

The world’s largest retailer has been busy for months installing GPS geofencing at all of its Wal-Mart Stores from shore to shore.

Analysts say this savvy move has a double effect — blocking out rival competition Amazon.com — but equally important is the retailer’s upgraded mobile application which insiders hope could be a shopper’s best friend.

Neil Ashe, CEO of @WalmartLabs, said recently the mobile application will offer in-store navigation. Users will be able to browse an interactive map of the store, select an item, and see its exact location. Shoppers have the option to order the item directly from Wal-Mart's website, if they don’t want to stand in long lines.

The app will also blast sales notifications to customers from Black Friday through its online shopping equivalent, Cyber Monday.

Wal-Mart estimates that 40% of its holiday web traffic will come from mobile devices, up since last year. Roughly 12% of the company's mobile commerce sales actually occur while customers are in the stores, according to company officials.

When shopping for the holidays, more than one-half of consumers surveyed plan to head to discount stores, followed by the 45% choosing the Internet, making these the top two shopping destinations again this year, according to Alison Paul, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP.

Wal-Mart hopes to cash in on both fronts. The retailer is pulling out all the stops to woo shoppers again this year with extended layaway, earlier Black Friday hours and promised deals on everything from top toys to the latest electronics.

Deloitte notes that gifts may come in bigger packages and omnichannel shoppers are expected to ring up the most on gifts this holiday season.

A recent survey found Americans may wrap fewer packages this year, but the value of the gifts they buy could increase.

Survey respondents' gift spending remains similar to last year at $386, down just slightly from $395 in 2011. The average number of gifts consumers plan to purchase fell to 12.8 from 14.7 last year, a number that has declined steadily from 23.1 in 2007.

"Omnichannel" shoppers may bring retailers the most holiday cheer. The average gift spend among consumers surveyed who plan to hit the Internet, their smartphones and stores this holiday season is $600, a healthy 71% higher than those who plan to shop only in stores.

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While the economy may be affecting fewer consumers' spending plans, the hunt for bargains remains a holiday tradition. This year, 44% of shoppers indicate that because they expect merchandise will eventually go "on sale," they will only buy sale items, and nearly 4 in 10 also expect store associates to match prices.

"Consumers have come to expect value at a good price, and the stakes are high for retailers to keep promotions fresh throughout the season," Paul said.

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