Holiday Shopping Wars: Target vs. Wal-Mart

Halloween is just a day away, which means only one thing for brick-and-mortar stores such as Target (NYSE: TGT  ) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) : The all-important holiday shopping season is just around the corner. This year, digital technology will be front and center, as retailers aim to make it faster and more convenient for guests to spend money. On that score, let's see how Target and Wal-Mart are preparing for the upcoming Christmas rush.

Click and save
Mobile apps will be a big draw for customers this season. Consider this: 68% of smartphone owners will use their devices to shop this holiday season, according to new research from Deloitte. To put that in perspective, more than half of all U.S. adults today own smartphones .

Both Target and Wal-Mart offer free mobile apps for iPhone and Android devices. However, Target gets extra points for its mobile coupons application known as Cartwheel by Target. The discounter teamed up with Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) in May to launch the digital coupon service. While Facebook users must opt in to use the service, the partnership gives Target access to more than 1 billion global users.

Users can unlock timely deals on the Cartwheel mobile app by making purchases online or in Target stores by scanning a barcode on their smartphones. Cartwheel also leverages the social channel by posting customized offers to a user's Facebook newsfeed. This is also important for Facebook as the social site attempts to find its place in mobile. As it stands, Facebook's app page for Target Cartwheel has 91,761 likes, compared to more than 22 million likes for Target's business page on Facebook.

Wal-Mart is also popular on Facebook, with its business page garnering an impressive 34 million likes. Moreover, Wal-Mart's Facebook fans enjoyed a special two-day head start on layaway items this year.

The mobile advantage
Customers are also buying more on their mobile devices while shopping in stores. Last month, 54% of Target shoppers used their smartphone to make an in-store purchase, compared to just 38% of Wal-Mart customers, according to Forbes. Wal-Mart and Target both offer free Wi-Fi in their stores now -- making it easier for guests to search for items shopping in the store. This can also work against a brick-and-mortar store because shoppers can price-check products online at Amazon.com.

As a result, Target and Wal-Mart will offer price-match guarantees throughout the holiday season. Target's Holiday Price Match policy will apply to purchases made between November 1 and December 21. Wal-Mart offers a similar price-match program that runs all year.

Overall, shoppers will be able to find great holiday bargains this year at both Wal-Mart and Target stores. However, Target looks to have the upper hand in terms of mobile strategy thanks to its Cartwheel deals app. Nevertheless, the year-end holiday season is the Super Bowl of retail, and only the most mobile-minded retailers will prevail this year.

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