So what has turned the tide for Wal-Mart?
Johnson traced it back to strategy changes that the retailer made in January.
Wal-Mart hired a new advertising firm, Martin Agency, ranked by Advertising Age as one of the top five agencies of the year in 2006. In the same month, the company named Stephen Quinn as chief marketing officer.
Said Johnson, “Quinn used to be CMO at Frito-Lay. Industry insiders say he has a very strong marketing mind.”
Wal-Mart strengthened its branded electronics offerings by introducing Dell computers to its stores in June. In September, Wal-Mart discarded its staid “Always Low Prices” slogan for a new tagline – “Save Money. Live Better” – in time for the holidays.
“If you make a promise like that, you have to deliver it in your store,” Johnson said.
Industry experts said Wal-Mart backed up that theme by being the first to aggressively slash prices on thousands of toys in late October followed by a round of early discounts in November on some of the year’s hottest electronics.
Target chose not indulge in an early price war with Wal-Mart.
Analysts said Wal-Mart appears to have outperformed Target on grocery purchases as well, which account for a big chunk of both retailers sales.
“There’s a real sense of urgency at Wal-Mart. The stores had that festive feel and look in early November,” Johnson said. “In some Target stores I visited, the level of service varied from indifference to non-existent.”
And here we thought “that festive feel and look” was annoying. Shows what we know. Here’s another interesting observation:
“This holiday season Wal-Mart really outmaneuvered Target in service,” Buxbaum said.
“As a merchandiser, you can’t ignore the customer experience. The level of helpfulness in Target stores is approaching Home Depot territory,” Johnson said.
Really? Can it be true? Is Target really as awful as Home Depot?