Merchandising: Retailers Focus on ‘Croods: A New Age’

Target and Walmart brought out exclusive editions of DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age, which was released on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 3D Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 23 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Target offered the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the animated film with a 40-page filmmaker gallery book at $24.99.

Walmart had a gift set of the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for $24.96 packed with a “Croods” water bottle and a 35-piece puzzle.

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‘The Croods: A New Age’ Walmart Blu-ray

Walmart Reports Record Q4, Fiscal Year Revenue; E-Commerce Skyrockets

Walmart Feb. 18 reported record revenue of $152.1 billion for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 31. That was up 7.3%, or $10.4 billion, from the previous-year period. Same-store sales increased 8.6%. For the fiscal year, revenue increased 6.7% to $559.2 billion, an increase of $35.2 billion. Online sales exploded 69% in the quarter and 79% for the fiscal year.

The world’s largest retailer saw strong sales performance in categories related to customer comfort, leisure, and recreation, including home, consumer electronics, sporting goods, toys, and outdoor living. Walmart attributed the surge in part to federal government-driven COVID-19 stimulus spending, which benefited January sales.

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“Our associates responded unbelievably to serve customers in one of the most challenging times we’ve faced,” CFO Brett Biggs said in a statement. “We accomplished this while accelerating our long-term strategy of transforming Walmart into a dynamic omnichannel business. It’s now time to accelerate even more.”

CEO Doug McMillon said some of that acceleration includes raising average wages toward $15 per hour for an additional 425,000 frontline workers after raising wages for 165,000 associates last fall. The chain is set to raise some position’s hourly wage to $13 to $19 on March 13. Walmart’s current average minimum wage remains at $11 hourly, while rivals Amazon and Target increased their starting hourly wage to $15.

Walmart, the country’s largest private employer with around 1.5 million personnel, has been long criticized for not raising its minimum wage for store workers. Three years ago the chain reacted, upping its hourly starting pay to $11 from from the federal minimum of $7.25.

Increased employee costs and cautious 2021 projections resulted in a pre-market stock value decline, which then bumped up slightly in early trading.

“We completed a strong year and a strong Q4 thanks to our amazing associates,” McMillon said. “They stepped up to serve our customers and members exceptionally well during a busy holiday period in the midst of a pandemic.”

Last September Walmart launched “Walmart Plus,” a $98 annual subscription program aimed at competing with the Amazon Prime membership. Unlike Prime, Walmart’s membership service does not include streaming video after the chain sold its Vudu subsidiary.

“This is a time to be even more aggressive because of the opportunity we see in front of us,” McMillon said. “The strategy, team and capabilities are in place. We have momentum with customers, and our financial position is strong.”

CES: Walmart CEO Talks Accelerated Change

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, a 30-year veteran at the company, talked about changes at the retailer accelerated by the pandemic during a keynote at the virtual CES Jan. 13.

“There’s more change happening right now than at any point in those 30 years,” he said.

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Walmart had to adjust to serve customers as they flocked to e-commerce.

“I think many of those things that changed won’t go back,” he said.

As the pandemic hit, he said Walmart identified five priorities, in order:

  1. Keep associates safe.
  2. Keep the supply chain moving.
  3. Help others.
  4. Manage the business in the short term.
  5. Move forward on strategy.

 

As far as keeping employees safe, the chain was able to quickly secure tens of millions of masks and install plexiglass to protect associates.

“They’re just being so courageous,” he said, noting the difficulty of “working with customers, some of which don’t want to wear a mask even though we have a mask mandate.”

With the supply chain, food was the first challenge, and then other items were in high demand, including adult bikes.

“The demand really changed on a lot of those items,” he said.

During the pandemic, the company had to adapt to how customers wanted to live and shop, which taught the company lessons on the importance of using new technology, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, to better interact with them.

“We’ve got to get better at forecasting demand, so artificial intelligence and the way we use data is really important,” he said.

As far as helping others, the chain forgave rents, offered different terms for suppliers, and hired more than a half million people in a matter of months.

“We hired bartenders that didn’t have a job,” he said.

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Walmart+, the chain’s $98 annual subscription program aimed at competing with the Amazon Prime membership, debuted Sept. 1 in the middle of the pandemic. The service offers subscribers the ability to “scan-and-go” purchases in stores, free same-day shipping on some store items, and discounts on gas, among other perks. The chain is carefully ramping up those memberships, keeping an eye on maintaining customer service.

“We’ve got to build capacity for delivery,” he said.

McMillon discussed the company’s environmental initiatives such as Project Gigaton, a Walmart initiative to cut 1 billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030. The company wants to go further to become a “regenerative” force, preserving land and water, he said.

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Spurred by the killing of George Floyd and protests last year, the company also stepped up its diversity strategy. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation last summer committed $100 million over five years through a new Center for Racial Equity. The center’s initiatives will fund research, advocacy, innovation of practices and tools, stakeholder convening, and non-profit capacity building.

“We’ve been looking in the mirror, and we’ve been studying and learning,” he said, noting that his own educational background was lacking.

“I’ve been learning more about American history, things I was not taught in school,” he said.

The company has also been looking at processes such as where they put cash deposits and how that might help black-owned businesses.

He’s also garnered lessons about organizational speed, learning to count on and trust employees, he said.

“There were quite a few times where we were facing something that I didn’t have answer for,” he said, adding, “I think the run rate of the company going forward will be faster as a result of what’s happening.”

Merchandising: On the Hunt for ‘Tenet’

The big title to hit shelves Dec. 15 was Warner’s Tenet, the latest mind-bending adventure from director Christopher Nolan. Both Best Buy and Walmart offered exclusive editions of the film.

Best Buy had its typical Steelbook offering, presenting a Tenet 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook combo pack for $34.99.

Walmart’s ‘Tenet’ DVD

Walmart also dipped into its exclusives playbook, and with Tenet being a Warner title, offered a bare-bones DVD with unique box art and no extras for $16.96. The widely available special-edition DVD with an hour of behind-the-scenes extras wasn’t even stocked in some stores, but was available at Walmart.com for $19.96.

‘Tenet’ standard-release box art for DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD

Target didn’t have a Tenet exclusive, but was running a promotion for 20% off DVDs and Blu-rays, excluding new releases.

A number of Target stores around Southern California continue to have issues stocking their new releases in a timely manner on Tuesday morning. At one store, where the shelves were empty at 8 a.m. but the display labels for all the new titles were in place, a clerk said the new titles likely wouldn’t be stocked until late afternoon, as they weren’t in a rush to bring out the boxes of new product from the stockroom, even for customers who asked about them specifically.

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There were also reports of issues with Target’s app feature allowing shoppers to pay online and pick the item up in the store. One customer looking for the Tenet 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray said he had several stores cancel his order on the claim that they were out of stock, but when he went to the actual store, they had plenty of copies on the shelf.

As COVID-19 Surges, Black Friday Crowds Don’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed this year’s Black Friday retail shopping frenzy, in which hordes of shoppers typically camp out overnight waiting for stores to open early on the morning after Thanksgiving — or, in recent years, start shopping right after they finish their turkey dinners.

Not this year.

With COVID-19 surging in what health experts are calling a third wave of the disease, none of the big retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day — not even Walmart, which used to be open all day, or Target and Best Buy, which opened for business in the late afternoon or at midnight.

The big retailers also began offering their deep discounts several weeks before Black Friday, often targeting online shoppers with Web-only specials. And the year’s hottest gift item, Sony’s new PlayStation 5 video game console, saw gamers glued to the Internet to watch for alerts on Twitter and other social media channels about the next wave of consoles available at the various retailers, mostly for online purchase.

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“One thing that is happening, and has been happening for awhile, is the past couple of years, we’ve seen Black Friday deals moving more and more online,” Amir Neto, director of Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University, told USA Today. “This year, there are more incentives to maintain or expand this trend.”

Adobe Analytics on Nov. 27 reported that online spending on Thanksgiving Day rose by nearly 22% to reach a new record of $5.1 billion, from $4.1 billion last year. The research firm said November and December online sales are expected to jump 33% this year, totaling $189 billion, including $10.3 billion on Black Friday.

Aside from the big retail players, Family Video, the last remaining national chain of dedicated video stores, sent out an email early Friday morning offering discounts of up to 75% on Warner Bros. DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD titles, including Aquaman, The Dark Knight, Inception, Doctor Sleep, 12 Strong and Annabelle. “You will not find better Black Friday deals on Blu-rays, DVDs, and 4K Blu-rays from Warner Bros. anywhere else!” the Family Video email read, noting that the sale ends Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, with physical stores having offered discounts all week, reports on Black Friday itself suggest the early rush to physical retail stores is more of a trickle this year. A Target store in Costa Mesa, Calif., was practically empty shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 27. “It looks like any other day,” said one observer.

Target is running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on books, movies and music. Blu-rays and DVDs could be had for as low as $4, $7 and $9. Signs were placed not only in the electronics area, but in some stores displays were put in the clothing section in the center of the store and at checkout. One customer in Mission Viejo, Calif., noted that the sales weren’t as prevalent as previous years.

At a Costa Mesa Best Buy, there were fewer than two dozen people waiting in a socially distant line, a far cry from prior years.

In Oceanside, Calif., a Walmart was a little busier, but the traditional DVD and Blu-ray Disc “dump bins,” featuring catalog movie titles priced as low as $2 to $5, were conspicuously absent. “It’s really slow,” a clerk said.

The movie aisle at an Oceanside, Calif. Walmart on Black Friday 2020, shortly before 9 a.m.

Chicago resident Maria Lopez, who often shops on Black Friday, said she was only visiting one store this year out of concerns of contracting the coronavirus. Lopez bought a 42-inch television from Best Buy.
“It’s so sad,” Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve been out since 6 a.m. and there were no long lines. It’s definitely not the same like years prior.”

And yet the National Retail Federation earlier in the week  forecast that total holiday sales during November and December would be up by as much as 5.2% from the same period last year, generating $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion in revenue. The data, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compares with a 4% increase in 2019, and an average holiday sales gain of 3.5% over the past five years.

“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” Matthew Shay, CEO of the retail trade group, said in a statement. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year.”

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Redbox is participating in the Black Friday discounting frenzy with specials across all its platforms, physical as well as online. Through the weekend, the retailer is offering customers who rent two discs at its more than 40,000 kiosks 50 cents off, as well as “price drops” on digital rentals through Redbox On Demand. Redbox also is hosting a used movie sale at “select kiosks,” selling off previously viewed copies of films such as Trolls World Tour ($3.99), The Tax Collector ($5.99) and Justice League ($3.99).

On the streaming front, NBCUniversal as a Black Friday special offered 20% off access to the Peacock subscription streaming service, while Hulu launched a discounted $1.99 monthly promotion at midnight on Thanksgiving Day. The campaign gives new and returning subscribers 12-month access to the ad-supported Hulu option, which amounts to a $48 savings over the recently reduced $5.99 monthly fee (from $7.99). The ad-free subscription plan remains priced at $11.99 monthly.

Additional reporting by John Latchem and Stephanie Prange

Walmart Bows Holiday Recipes, E-Commerce on Tastemade Streaming Video Service

Walmart is partnering with media company Tastemade to launch two special holiday episodes of the Daytime Emmy-nominated series “Struggle Meals” on Tastemade’s streaming network.

The episodes are Tastemade’s first brand partnership for the online series, and allow streamers to shop for holiday recipe ingredients using Walmart’s pickup and delivery service for delivery or curbside pickup. The first episode just launched, followed by the second episode, which will go live Dec. 17.

With the pandemic prompting more families to cook at home and prepare meals in advance, Walmart is focused on finding innovative solutions and partners to help streamline the process for people to get food on their tables. The streaming video episodes offer tips on how to cook inventive, better-for-you, minimum waste meals that aim to save time and money, while also alleviating the stress of holiday cooking and planning.

“Struggle Meals” is hosted by Chef Frankie Celenza and is one of Tastemade’s most successful shows to-date, garnering an audience of more than one million viewers per week cross-platform.

“Viewers will be able to easily shop all the ingredients for these amazing holiday recipes, while cooking alongside their favorite chef and enjoying delicious meals with their loved ones,” Mary Schulke, associate director of strategic partnerships at Walmart, said in a statement.

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Viewers have the opportunity to text an on-screen number from their phones to add ingredients from the featured recipes in the episodes directly to their Walmart shopping cart using Walmart’s pickup and delivery service.

In each episode, Chef Frankie offers techniques to cook Thanksgiving and holiday-themed meals, and shares tips to creatively use ingredients viewers already have at home to make delicious fare for their guests in addition to the main dishes. The Struggle Meals holiday edition features a unique take on bold holiday flavors, including dishes like Thanksgiving turkey burgers, cinnamon nutmeg doughnuts, tacos with holiday brisket, creamy butternut squash soup, and more.

“The holidays will look a little different this year, so with these special Struggle Meals episodes, we’ve partnered with Walmart to help consumers prepare delicious meals that will save time and money, and that will allow for more time to be spent with friends and loved ones — whether that’s virtually or in-person,” said Jeff Imberman, head of sales and brand partnerships at Tastemade.

The episodes will air on Tastemade’s streaming network, on the newly launched Tastemade en Español streaming channel (with Spanish subtitles). These episodes will also be available on Struggle Meals’ YouTubeSnapchat, and Facebook, and Tastemade’s FacebookInstagram, and TikTok.

Big Retail Looks to Counter Amazon Prime Days With Steep Discounts

When Amazon pushed back its annual Prime Days e-commerce sales event from the summer to Oct. 13-14, big box competitors were faced with a decision: counter the online behemoth’s signature event that generated more than $7 billion in sales last year with competing discounts, or wait until November’s Black Friday, the industry’s traditional retail event the day after Thanksgiving.

They’re doing both.

Big box chains such as Target, Walmart and Best Best Buy are launching Black Friday-type discounts this week on select big-ticket consumer electronics, toys, clothing and gaming items in an effort to lure consumers with contactless retail, including curbside delivery of both in-store and e-commerce transactions in the COVID-19 era.

Target is bowing “Deal Days,” and Best Buy is offering early access to select Black Friday deals during the same Prime Days period. Walmart, which recently launched its own retail subscription program to compete with the Prime membership, began its “Big Save Event” on Oct. 11 (at 7 p.m. ET) through Oct. 15.

Walmart is offering 21% Off JVC 32-inch class HD Roku Smart LED televisions, 32% of Samsung Smart Watches, $100 Off Beats Solo Pro Wireless headsets, 24% Off Roku Streaming Stick.

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Best Buy is marketing a 70-inch Samsung 4K HD Smart TV for $529.99. It will also sell laptop computers priced at $119.99 as part of the early sale.

“This will be a holiday season like no other, and we want to help our customers shop how, where and when they want,” Best Buy spokesman Keegan Shoutz told USA Today. “This year, that means helping them start their shopping early, by starting our Black Friday deals earlier than ever before.”

Target said it would offer deals on “hundreds of thousands of items across its electronics, toys, beauty, and home departments,” including offering contactless drive-up and order pickup on many items. Indeed, fast-forwarding Black Friday discounts enables chains to promote their enhanced safety protocols while minimizing the traditional long lines and crowded malls in November.

“There are so many unknown variables this year,” Tyson Cornell, head of the U.S. consumer markets group at PwC, told The Washington Post. “By kicking off sales in October, [retailers] are hoping to spread consumer traffic and demand over the next few months, helping them maintain social distancing in stores, consistently move inventory and adjust their strategies based on early consumer demand.”

James Zahn, senior editor of trade magazine Toy Insider, said the stampede mentality of the past, with doorbusters sales and Black Friday deals every weekend, is being replaced by earlier, season-long discounts.

“We’re in a health crisis, so retailers are having to rethink how they get products into families’ hands,” Zahn said.

Analyst: 11% of Americans Subscribed to ‘Walmart Plus’ 14 Days After Launch

About 11% of Americans signed up for “Walmart Plus,” the $98 annual subscription program aimed at competing with the Amazon Prime membership, just 14 days after launch. Citing data from a survey of 20,179 respondents, research firm Piplsay found that 35% of respondents had a favorable impression of the platform, with another 38% saying they believe Walmart+ will be competitive with Amazon Prime.

The findings are significant since they suggest broad consumer appeal and the possibility Walmart would expand the platform’s appeal with streaming access to movies, TV shows and music — now available on Prime Video and Prime Music.

Walmart+ bowed offering subscribers the ability to “scan-and-go” purchasing in stores and discounts on gas. Other features cited favorably by survey respondents included free shipping (35%) on orders over $35, same-day/24-hour deliveries (24%) and pricing (5%). The platform is $21 cheaper than Amazon Prime on an annual basis.

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Notably, 45% of respondents said they subscribe to both Walmart+ and Amazon Prime; 36% said it was their first retailer subscription service and 19% said they were dropping Amazon Prime for Walmart+. Another 60% of men think Walmart+ will be a big threat to Amazon Prime as compared to just 40% of women. Among those interested, about 36% of millennials and Gen Xers have taken both Walmart Plus and Amazon Prime subscriptions. About 56% of Gen Zers are excited about the mobile scan-and-go feature as compared with 44% of Gen Xers.

“Walmart Plus is taking on Amazon Prime in what is the biggest online retail battle to hit the U.S. in recent times,” read the report.

Merchandising: Walmart Offers ‘Wonder Woman’ Gift Set; New Best Buy Steelbooks Include ‘Fury Road’

Walmart is selling an exclusive Blu-ray/DVD gift set of Warner’s 2017 superhero movie Wonder Woman that includes a wallet and slap bracelet for $14.96. It also comes with an $8 coupon for the sequel, WW84, whenever it opens in theaters (good through 2021).

The DVD catalog section at Walmart also offers a selection of Universal monster movies on DVD for $14.96 each with limited-edition glow-in-the-dark slipcases and exclusive Vudu digital copy.

Universal monster movie DVDs with glow-in-the-dark slipcases at Walmart

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Best Buy’s new Steelbooks for Sept. 29 include Warner’s Mad Max: Fury Road 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack for $29.99.

Best Buy’s ‘Evil Dead 1&2’ Steelbook

There are also two new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack Steelbooks from Lionsgate: 1978’s Halloween at $19.99, and an Evil Dead 1&2 double feature for $24.99.

Best Buy is also running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion covering dozens of titles, including Universal’s 1917 on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, and Parasite and The Photograph on Blu-ray.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s TikTok Ban in the U.S.

With President Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order banning social media video app TikTok in the United States set to go into effect Sept. 27, a federal court judge in Washington D.C. has reportedly approved a preliminary injunction blocking the order.

Chinese-based TikTok owner ByteDance Sept. 23 filed for an expedited preliminary injunction against Trump’s executive order, calling it politically motivated and lacking in merit. The Trump Administration, which is involved in ongoing trade and ethnic Muslim disputes with China, argued the TikTok app posed a threat to national security. TikTok reportedly has more than 100 million U.S. users on a monthly basis.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2019, reportedly felt TikTok had not been given the proper time to defend itself in court.

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“This was a largely unilateral decision with very little opportunity for plaintiffs to be heard,” said the judge as reported by the Washington Post.

Trump had initially given his public approval (in a North Carolina campaign rally) for a proposed TikTok asset sale to Oracle and Walmart. But when it was revealed that Oracle and Walmart would collectively own just 20% of new entity TikTok Global, with China controlling 80%, Trump changed his mind.

This is the second legal setback for Trump, who saw a second executive order banning China’s WeChat app overruled by a San Francisco federal magistrate, which cited First Amendment issues in ruling against the president.