Celeb wake-up call: Target hits a Wal-Mart weak spot

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A sensuous kiss from Heidi Klum, heavy breathing from Darth Vader and a kick in the butt from Ice-T woke up Target customers-and subsequently Wal-Mart-on retail's most important day of the year.

Target's promotion invited customers to sign up online for a novel early morning telephone call to get a start on holiday shopping. "Everybody in retail is going to look at this; everybody is going to go to school on this," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman, Howard Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm. "The customer is demanding promotions-that's what's driving footsteps," he said.

The promotion, coming as Wal-Mart made a disastrous decision not to slash prices for the holiday-a move since rescinded-turned out to be a masterstroke for Target. In recent years, retailers have upped the Black Friday ante, first opening earlier and earlier, and then adding door-buster promotions, such as a limited selection of high-demand products at unusually low-prices. Target's wake-up call program was "a great idea," said Eric Beder, senior VP-retail analyst, JB Hanauer & Co.-one that gave it an advantage as Wal-Mart showed some vulnerability.

Target scored with a November same-store sales increase of 3.2% and expects a 3% to 5% growth in same-store sales for December. Wal-Mart, by comparison, initially reported a disappointing Black Friday with November same-store growth of 0.7%; December sales are expected to increase 1% to 3%, though retail analysts caution not to count it out.

a rooster, or cheech?

Target's promotion, created by Mother, New York, started in mid-November with a series of four Internet films that were advertised on sites such as Friendster and AtomFilms, and spread virally. Each film was designed to get a potential customer to sign up for a recorded wake-up call with one of 10 audio selections such as a rooster, a crying baby and actor Cheech Marin.

Calls were available from 4 a.m. on Friday, with stores opening at 6 a.m., and on Saturday when stores opened at 8 a.m. On Nov. 22, a media campaign broke on spot TV, the top 20 radio markets and newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post.

Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud declined to release data on how many customers signed up for the promotion, but said Ms. Klum, Darth Vader, and Ice T "were among the more popular" wake-up callers.

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