(Replaces "For example" with "Other companies" in last
* Toys likely to see holiday season's biggest price
* "Pretty good" presales of Xbox One and PlayStation 4
* Ready to start sales earlier on Thanksgiving
By Jessica Wohl
NEW YORK, Sept 11 Wal-Mart Stores Inc
expects competition in the toy aisles to be so tough this
holiday season that it has turned to the experts in the field:
The largest U.S. retailer brought in more than 1,000
children this year to test toys and rank their favorites,
Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon told Reuters on Wednesday. He said
the toys category is likely to be the one that sees the biggest
pricing pressure this holiday season.
During an interview at the Reuters Global Consumer and
Retail Summit that covered a variety of topics ranging from
consumer sentiment to healthcare and manufacturing, Simon
appeared hopeful about Walmart's ability to adapt to the
changing environment for retailers.
U.S. consumers are figuring out how to "find a way to
navigate" through a continued difficult economy. While the
payroll tax increase and other concerns cause people "to pause
and think about what they're spending," Simon said that he
continues "to be amazed by the resilience of the consumer."
"I think customers are going to shop for Christmas and
Halloween, Thanksgiving, just like they always did, and they're
going to figure out in between how to make it up," Simon said.
Walmart U.S. stores are ready to kick off Thanksgiving
weekend sales "whenever we need to go."
Last year the company's first major offers were made at 8
p.m. Thanksgiving evening.
"We think it's important to be first and we're ready to go
any time," he said, speaking at the summit in New York.
Walmart U.S., the biggest unit of the world's largest
retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc, expects its sales to improve in
the second half of the year after the chain posted declines in
sales at stores open at least a year - better known as
same-store sales - in both the first and second quarters.
Walmart has already stepped up its e-commerce efforts as it
battles Amazon.com Inc and other retailers by using its
thousands of bricks and mortar stores across the country.
For example, it already ships more than 10 percent of orders
sent to customers' homes directly from its stores rather than
from distribution centers, and that percentage is expected to
grow, Simon said.
Another advantage of having stores that can fill online
orders is that Walmart customers can order gifts online and pick
them up in stores as late as Christmas Eve, with no last-minute
While discounts are expected in the toy aisles, Simon does
not expect many deals on "hot electronics" such as the new Xbox
One by Microsoft Corp and Sony Corp's
Walmart U.S. has already seen "pretty good" presales of both
of those gaming systems, he said. This is the first holiday
season in several years with highly anticipated gaming systems
coming to the market. Electronics retailers from Walmart to Best
Buy Co Inc are eager for hot gifts after items such as
3D televisions were disappointments.
NO CHANGES TO HEALTH INSURANCE
Walmart is the largest employer in the United States besides
the federal government. Last month, it announced plans to add
coverage for workers' domestic partners.
The company is not making any big changes to its healthcare
coverage, Simon said, even as other companies do so ahead of the
upcoming January implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Some
Fortune 500 companies have started to cut back on certain
benefits as they look to reduce healthcare costs.
United Parcel Service Inc told non-union employees
that their spouses would no longer qualify for company-sponsored
health insurance if they could get coverage through their own
jobs. Other companies, such as IBM, plan
to move U.S. retirees off its company-sponsored health plan and
shift them into new private insurance exchanges.
Walmart does not offer healthcare coverage to its
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(Additional reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba in
New York; editing by Matthew Lewis and Phil Berlowitz)