Target hears its customers: Cool the 'Christmas creep'

NEW YORK – Target (TGT) says customers want it to pause the "Christmas creep." Saying it wants to be more in tune with customers' mindset, it plans to ease in holiday promotions this year while better recognizing Thanksgiving.

The retailer's holiday plans also include a new e-gift service, adding kiosks that focus on impulse presents mainly under $15, and launching a wallet feature to its app. It's also offering more weekend deals since shoppers do more holiday buying then.

While all retailers need to worry about online growth and the expansion of Amazon (AMZN), Target is spending $7 billion over three years to remodel old stores, open small ones in cities and college towns and offer faster delivery for online orders. It has also been refreshing its store brands and trying to be more convenient for shoppers. Eight of Target's new brands will be available for the first time this holiday season.

The company is expanding its marketing focus and increasing its holiday marketing budget compared to a year ago.

For November, Target will keep Thanksgiving signs and displays at the entrances, and its marketing will play up Thanksgiving meal preparation and entertaining for shoppers. "They want us to pause, and be really intentional and recognize Thanksgiving," said Rick Gomez, Target's chief marketing officer. "What they don't want us to do is go right into Christmas. So, we are going to respect that."

As it eases into the later holidays, the company isn't repeating the "Ten Days of Deals" strategy, which it had for two seasons in a row. Instead, it's increasing weekend deals starting Nov. 11. Gomez said customers are shopping on the weekend twice as much as they are during weekdays.

Target is also focusing on convenience. A new service on its website lets people click on a GiftNow button for products to send an e-gift. That lets the recipient know, and allows the person to change the color or size or choose something entirely different -- all before anything is shipped.

In its stores, Target is adding kiosks that cater to different kinds of shoppers. They include items like fluffy slippers or beauty products.

As it works to play catch-up in some online services. Target is now shipping online orders from 1,400 stores, up from 1,000 a year ago. Fifty percent of orders shipped from stores arrive to customers' homes in two days, the company said.

It's also offering curbside pickup for online customers at 50 stores in the Minneapolis area. The items include not only groceries but also other products like toys and electronics. Competitor Walmart (WMT), meanwhile, has 1,000 stores that offer curbside pickup for online shoppers buying groceries as well as certain seasonal items. It plans to double that figure next year.

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