Holiday toy sale competitions among retailers don’t usually begin until early October, but Wal-Mart has announced a preemptive strike as it kicks off the 2015 Christmas shopping season. On Wednesday, (Aug. 27) the retail giant began offering a sneak peek at its toy list chosen by kids.
Wal-Mart also will begin offering holiday layaway on Friday (Aug. 28) a week prior to Labor Day and two weeks earlier than last year.
“Outside of the holiday season, we could be looking at the biggest week of 2015 for toys and we’re giving customers every reason to choose Walmart,” said Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys at Walmart. “We’ve made a tradition out of letting kids tell us which toys will be most popular during the holidays. Between their selections this year and the excitement around Star Wars, parents know exactly what will top kids’ wish lists, and they can count on us for great prices.”
With regard to the layaway kickoff, corporate spokeswoman Molly Blakeman said, this year the company has lowered the price for eligible items to $10 with a $50 minimum basket.
“There is no opening fee for customers to start a layaway account, and they only need to put down 10%. The last day to pick up layaway items is Dec. 14,” Blakeman said.
Customers like layaway because it helps them better budget their holiday spending, lets them avoid credit card fees and interest, and keeps toys hidden from curious children, Kehoe said.
Just as the Disney mega hit Frozen was a huge draw in 2014, the retailer has again set its sights on the movies with Star Wars, the “most anticipated movie and toy releases in the last several years.”
Kehoe told the media during a Wednesday press conference that “Walmart wants those fans and collectors flocking to its stores for everything Star Wars. Outside of the holiday season, we could be looking at the biggest week of 2015 for toys.”
Starting at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 4, dubbed “Force Friday,” Walmart will host commemorative events at 2,900 stores nationwide, complete with costumed employees and exclusive giveaways, including a two-pack Star Wars Galactic Connexxions trading disk game by Topps.
Retail experts aren’t convinced these early sales promotions move the needle for retailers.
“It is hard to believe that Christmas selling gets earlier every year. I find this ridiculous, but obviously Walmart has done some research that tells them that people will buy very early. … Star Wars gear is always very popular, regardless of the season,” said Robert Antall, of Consumer Centric.
He said competitors have no choice but to respond because of Walmart’s giant size.
There is a lot at stake, according to the NPD Group that has forecast toy sales will be up 6.2% for the full year in 2015. NPD estimated the 2014 U.S. toy market generated around $22 billion.
Economists say lower gasoline prices – expected to stay around $2 a gallon for the balance of the year – is likely to put an added $50 per month in consumer pockets. Retailers are hoping that gets spent and not socked away for a rainy day.
Wal-Mart’s toy business is worth billions, though it has not disclosed the actual size. Using the annual reports of toy giants Mattel and Hasbro, Fortune magazine estimates that Wal-Mart’s market share is twice the size of competitors Target and Toys R Us.
Toys also have a surprising impact on Arkansas’ economy, according to data from the Toy Industry Association. The group reports there are 4,188 full-time equivalent jobs in the state directly tied to the toy sales, manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers. Those jobs result in annual wages of $133.62 million, with a total economic impact of $433.98 million.
In the U.S., toy industry jobs are an estimated 491,601, with annual wages of $24.51 billion.