AP Retail Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - In the latest effort to beat Amazon.com at its game, Target says that for the first time it will match prices that customers find on identical products at select online competitors this holiday season.
Target Corp.'s CEO Gregg Steinhafel told about 80 reporters at a company media conference Tuesday that the retailers include Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Bestbuy.com, Toysrus.com and babiesrus.com.
"We're proud of our prices," Steinhafel told the audience. "We believe this plays into our strength. But we also wanted to ensure our (customers) that they can shop with confidence."
Target's bold price match program, which covers the period from Nov. 1 through Dec. 16, is the latest step by brick-and-mortar retailers to be competitive with Amazon.com. Best Buy said last week that it authorized its store staffers to match online prices of competitors in some cases.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Target have already offered price-matching guarantees for local competitors' brick-and-mortar stores, but it's rare for stores to match online prices since they tend to be lower and fluctuate often.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said last week it will keep hammering its low-price message but has stopped short in matching prices with online rivals. The Bentonville, Ark., retailer told investors that it now can monitor prices across the Web every 20 minutes. That knowledge will help the discounter better react to price changes of its competitors.
The announcement from Target comes as the Minneapolis-based discounter is counting on keeping its sales momentum through the holiday shopping season, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of merchants' annual sales.
The company's business has been fueled by two key initiatives: It has been offering a large selection of food and also started a program in 2010 that gives shoppers a 5 percent discount when they pay with Target-branded credit and debit cards. Target executives said their goal for the crucial holiday season is to put the retailer at the forefront of shoppers' minds. In fact, Target launched its first holiday campaign on TV last week, a month earlier than last year. Typically, retailers start holiday ads in early November.
For the first time this year, Target's shoppers can shop from television spots, bus shelter ads and catalog pages by using their mobile phones to send a text or scan a QR codes. Such marketing will begin Nov. 7 and last through the holiday season.
In an anticipated move, Target also unveiled its merchandise collection that marks its first collaboration with luxury retailer Neiman Marcus. The partnership, announced in July, is the latest effort by Target to make its offerings more exciting.
In the late 1990s, the discounter pioneered the idea of low-price chains teaming with designers to create limited-time, affordable items. But since then, that strategy has been copied by competitors.
The Neiman Marcus/Target collection has more than 50 products from 24 designers, including Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Tory Burch. The items will be available online and at Target and Neiman Marcus stores starting Dec. 1 until they run out.
Prices range from $7.99 for Rodarte's gift wrap to $499.99 for Alice and Olivia's floral print bike. Most items are under $60 and also include floral dessert plates from Tracy Reese, a black and white yoga mat from Diane von Furstenberg and a compact mirror from Judith Leiber. Target says it also teamed up with ABC's popular TV series "Revenge" to highlight the products in the Nov. 11 episode.
Target made headlines during the fall of 2011 with the bungled launch of a lower-price collection from Missoni that was so intensely anticipated that Target's website crashed for almost an entire day, angering customers and leading to order cancellations. But Steinhafel told reporters Tuesday that won't happen again. The company has "doubled down" in its efforts to improve its site since then, he said.
"We're highly confident that our website will perform flawlessly," he said.
But with the increasing pressure from competition online, Target, like other brick-and-mortar merchants, is hammering its low prices in a still tough economy.
Target said Tuesday that the price match program with online retailers will be from Nov. 1 through Dec. 16. Target said the price matching won't include Amazon.com's marketplace items. Still, the discounter's new price matching is more aggressive than that of Best Buy, which only covers appliances and electronics. According to Best Buy, the price match will only be given on an "if asked" basis at the discretion of Best Buy staffers on the sales floor.
Furthermore, Target says it will extend the time period for its price match policy with items from brick-and-mortar stores. It will also include prices offered by Target.com for the first time. So if a customer purchases an item at Target stores between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 and then discovers it for less at Target.com or in a local competitor's printed ad, Target will match the price. The company also said it will be rolling out Wi-Fi in all of its stores this fall, following other rivals who are hoping to keep smartphone-toting shoppers in their stores.
Shoppers with Target-branded debit and credit cards will receive an extra 30 days on the chain's existing return policy on nearly all purchases paid with the card at stores and online. Card holders already save on free shipping on Target.com
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