EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


November 4, 2012

A virtual retail war

Bricks-and-mortar merchants battle online competitors for holiday dollars


Toys R Us has extended free layaway until Dec. 16 and rolled out a reservation service so parents can nab popular playthings early and avoid frantic last-minute searching during the holidays.

“You can go order online and pick it up immediately at your neighborhood store,” said Storch, the CEO. “You don’t have to wait around home for FedEx to arrive or come home to the little sticky note on the door.”

The chain is also pushing the idea that shoppers can browse an expanded lineup of items found nowhere else, including a $150 kid-oriented tablet computer called Tabeo.

Wal-Mart, which already allows shoppers to buy items online and pay for them in cash in stores, is extending layaway and has slashed the price for opening a layaway account. The world’s biggest retailer is also testing same-day delivery on certain gift items in three cities and expanding the experiment to San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., in early November.

The goal is to entice customers with tools that enable them “to shop when and where and how they want,” said Ravi Jariwala, a company spokesman.

“Our vision is to win at e-commerce,” Jariwala said. “We can do that by connecting the website with stores, and that gives us a unique advantage.”

At the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles, Tom Spoon, a 24-year-old engineer, said he normally orders holiday gifts online and ships them to his parents’ home in Atlanta. But after hearing retailers roll out so many promotions this year, the Santa Clarita, Calif., resident said he might browse the malls more this season.

“That would be good for last-minute gifts that you can’t wait for, and you can still make sure to get a good price,” he said. “Otherwise, if you don’t comparison-shop online, you’re just not a smart consumer.”

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