Wal-Mart Stores Inc is offering gift cards to U.S. shoppers this holiday season to make up the difference when they buy something at the store, then find it cheaper somewhere else.
The "Christmas Price Guarantee" announced on Monday is the company's latest move to get shoppers to see it as a low-price retailer after it lost customers to dollar stores.
Certain conditions are attached to the guarantee, which will be offered at U.S. Walmart stores from November 1 to December 25. It excludes prices in competitors' Black Friday ads, expired ads, Internet prices, percentage-off ads and clearance ads, and shoppers must bring their Walmart receipt and a competitor's print ad by December 25 to get the gift card.
The program applies only to in-store, not online, prices. But if shoppers see an item advertised for less on Walmart.com's own site, they can get it matched in stores.
The weak jobs market and higher gas and food prices are weighing on shoppers. In the September Accenture poll, 88 percent said they plan to spend the same or less than last year during the holidays. The National Retail Federation said last week it expects per capita spending to fall 2 percent this holiday season.
The season, which traditionally runs from the day after U.S. Thanksgiving through Christmas, is the most important time of year for retailers. In recent years, Walmart and other U.S. chains have advertised earlier and offered deeper discounts to draw shoppers amid the struggling economy.
"Given the state of the economy we've seen much more promotional intensity ... and gimmicks as well," Walmart Chief Merchandising Officer Duncan Mac Naughton said, referring to promotions by other chains.
Walmart has already brought thousands of items back to stores, cut prices and advertised that it will match competitors' local advertised prices at its registers. It also brought back holiday layaway on toys and electronics after other chains received a boost by offering that service during the downturn.
Layaway, which came back as recently as October 17, has met expectations so far, Mac Naughton said.
Items on layaway, where a buyer reserves merchandise by paying a deposit, are eligible for the guarantee.
Walmart is also doubling its media spending during the holiday season, Mac Naughton said.
The push comes as Walmart tries to sustain its recent momentum. Sales at existing U.S. stores rose in July, August and September after nine quarterly declines.
Issuing gift cards could lead Walmart's shoppers to spend more in its stores. Typically, shoppers redeeming gift cards spend more than the value of the cards.
The company is trying to gain loyalty among shoppers who now spend more at competitors such as dollar stores and other chains that offer an assortment of goods at low prices.
Walmart is offering interest-free shopping during November and December to its credit card holders who pay the bill in full within six months. It also extended a 10-cent-per-gallon discount on gasoline through December 24 for users of its credit card, gift card or MoneyCard.
Shares of Wal-Mart were down 0.4 percent at $56.68 in afternoon trading.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago and Maneesha Tiwari in Bangalore; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter, Lisa Von Ahn and Gunna Dickson)