2 Surprising Ways Retailers Are Preparing for the Holiday Shopping Season

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The holiday shopping season is just around the corner. However, retailers will need more than price-match guarantees this year if they hope to attract the most shoppers, since retail chains face the added burden of a shorter 2013 holiday season. In addition to the early arrival of Hanukkah, merchants must also navigate six fewer calendar days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here are two strategies your favorite stores are implementing in hopes of boosting holiday profits.

1. Spotlight on mobile apps
Bricks-and-mortar retailers plan to take advantage of a rise in mobile payments. With more than $12.8 billion spent through mobile payments in 2012, according to Forrester, stores are making it easier for customers to pay with their mobile devices. eBay's (NASDAQ: EBAY  ) PayPal unit recently unveiled a new technology dubbed Payment Code that enables customers to checkout in stores using a QR code on their smartphones. The retailer simply scans a digital barcode on your phone and you're done.

Unfortunately, PayPal doesn't plan to officially release the new service until after the holidays. However, that hasn't stopped retailers from rolling out their own mobile initiatives. Target (NYSE: TGT  ) revamped its mobile app last month to create a more connected in-store experience. The big-box chain's mobile app now uses location-based services to connect users to nearby Target stores.

Target shoppers can access the store's free Wi-Fi and use the app to find the in-store aisle where a specific product is located, according to Mobile Commerce Daily. This feature will be particularly helpful during the holidays when stores are crowded. Other notable features include TargetLists, which let you keep track of items you need, a barcode scanner for checking in-store prices, and daily deals.

Mobile apps will be a big part of the holiday shopping experience this year. However, don't be surprised if retailers touting free Wi-Fi use that as an opportunity to track your in-store behavior.

2. Riding Apple's coattails
(NYSE: WMT  ) is one of a handful of retailers betting on Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) colorful iPhone 5c this holiday season. The discounter is currently selling Apple's entry-level iPhone 5c in-store for as little as $45, with a two-year contract. This is the second time Wal-Mart has slashed the price of the popular device since Apple launched the gadget only two-weeks ago for $99.

Source: Apple.

Apple's lower-priced model has been a hit with retailers, as they attempt to draw larger crowds ahead of the all-important holiday shopping season. Selling the iPhone 5c at a 50% discount could help retailers such as Wal-Mart not only attract first-time iPhone users, but also sell iPhone accessories.

RadioShack (NASDAQOTH: RSHCQ  ) and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) also hope to cash-in on the device's popularity. RadioShack now offers customers a $50 gift card, which can be used toward the purchase of a new $99 iPhone 5c. RadioShack's offer is valid through Nov. 2. Earlier this month, Best Buy featured a $50 gift card promotion as well. However, the electronics retailer's deal was available for less than a week.

Best Buy has since replaced that promotion with a new trade-in offer. Customers can trade in their old smartphones for $100 store credit from Oct. 13 through Oct. 18 at Best Buy locations. With Best Buy currently selling the iPhone 5c for $99, participating customers would essentially get the new phones free.

Nevertheless, Wal-Mart's iPhone deal looks the most promising for two reasons. First, it is an actual price cut -- no gift cards or roundabouts required. Second, Wal-Mart is running the promotion throughout the holidays, unlike RadioShack and Best Buy.

The future of retail
The retail space is in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift since mail order took off at the turn of last century. Only the most forward-looking and capable companies will survive, and they'll handsomely reward investors who understand the landscape. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.

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