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Expectations high

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NEW YORK — Although most preseason forecasters anticipate robust consumer spending during the year-end holidays, retailers are leaving little to chance. Wal­­mart launched a mobile technology called Check Out With Me designed to allow employees to check out customers in the busiest areas of the store, such as the consumer electronics and toy departments.

Walmart also updated its app to allow shoppers with the app on their smartphones to access a digital map that can guide them to the merchandise they’re looking for.

The company is touting free shipping within two business days for all customers on orders of $35 or more.

Walmart said it has expanded its assortment in stores and online to offer customers its widest assortment of gifts this holiday season. More than 2,000 brands have been added to the retailer’s Walmart.com website, including De’Longhi and Braun in home, Sony XBR in electronics, and nearly 150 premium fashion brands available through the Lord & Taylor flagship store.

In its America’s Best Toy Shop, Walmart is offering hundreds of new toys this year.

With Toys ‘R’ Us out of business, more retailers than ever are expected to make a play for toy shoppers this holiday season.

Kroger Co. announced a partnership to bring Geoffrey’s Toy Box exclusive brands to nearly 600 Kroger stores for the holidays. Geoffrey’s Toy Box displays have been set up in participating stores, presenting up to three dozen children’s toys ranging in price from $19.99 to $49.99. The seasonal program features exclusive toys from Animal Zone, Imaginarium, Journey Girls, Edu Science, You & Me, and Just Like Home.

Meijer Inc. said it expanded its Top Toy list to 30 items from 10 to make it easier for holiday shoppers to find the season’s hottest name-brand toys.

“We know our customers appreciate getting an early look into the hottest toys on Meijer shelves, and we believe our wide selection will continue to make Meijer a toy destination this holiday season,” said Dan Myers, division merchandise manager of toys at Meijer. “One of the big toy trends this year is collectibles that children can’t wait to unravel to find the mystery prize inside.”

Target Corp. is opening its stores an hour earlier on Thanksgiving, at 5 p.m., and keeping them open an hour later than last year, until 1 a.m. on Friday, ­November 23.

Target’s holiday battle plan also includes free, two-day shipping with no minimum purchase or membership fee, as well as a Skip-the-Line service designed to help shoppers avoid lengthy checkout lines. Target employees using mobile devices can complete the checkout process from anywhere in the store.

Target said its aggressive investments to upgrade operations give customers more flexibility in their holiday shopping this year. Last holiday season, Target said its stores fulfilled 70% of all digital orders. This year, that percentage is expected to be even higher.

Target said it expected to hire 120,000 seasonal workers to handle heavier fulfillment and delivery demands. That’s a 20% increase from the number of seasonal hires Target made last year.

To lure workers, the company is offering pay of $12 an hour or more, a 10% discount at all Target stores and at Target.com, an additional 20% off produce, and the opportunity for extra pay on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Amazon had more than 100,000 seasonal openings for jobs paying $15 a hour or more, starting November 1. The seasonal openings include warehouse jobs, delivery jobs and more.

Kohl’s Corp. plans to hire about 90,000 seasonal employees at more than 1,100 locations and nine distribution centers across the country. The company is offering incentives including a 15% discount on Kohl’s products.

Kroger said it would hire 10,000 seasonal workers.

“Holidays are an exciting time for Kroger, because food is at the center of every celebration,” said Lanell Ohlinger, vice president of talent development. “We are looking for talented, inspired associates who share our vision to serve America through food inspiration and uplift.”

A healthy job market, last year’s tax cuts and strong consumer confidence are helping put shoppers in the mood to spend this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation, which projects an increase in holiday retail sales of between 4.3% and 4.8%, to at least $717.5 billion.

“Our forecast reflects the overall strength of the industry,” said Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and chief executive officer. “While there is concern about the impacts of an escalating trade war, we are optimistic that the pace of economic activity will continue to increase through the end of the year.”

Digital shopping is expected to account for $124 billion in holiday spending this year, a nearly 15% increase from last year, according to Adobe Analytics. The firm forecasts a 2.7% increase in holiday spending at brick-and-mortar stores.


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