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Target.com says shoppers delaying Web purchases

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer are filling up their virtual shopping carts but waiting until later in the season to complete their online holiday shopping, the president of Target.com said on Thursday.

“We say that every year,” said Target.com President Dale Nitschke of consumers procrastinating when it comes to holiday gift buying.

“I think that potentially it is a truer statement this year. We had an early Thanksgiving this year, which kind of throws the mind-set of the guest (consumer) a little bit,” he said in an interview.

There are 32 days from Thanksgiving to Christmas this year, giving retailers the task of trying to fill the long gap between “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas with events that keep consumers excited.

But after shoppers flocked to stores for deep discounts during the Black Friday weekend, they retreated, and earlier on Thursday, Target Corp TGT.N said softness in the final week of the month caused overall November sales to fall short of plan.

Target said sales would need to “meaningfully improve” in December for its fourth-quarter earnings per share to grow.

Nitschke said Target.com was having a “great holiday,” helped by a more extensive assortment of products online than a year ago, although he declined to provide specific sales figures.

He said Target.com has seen significant increases in traffic over last year, and shoppers are not shying away from buying higher-ticket items, like electronics.

Target.com is also taking a different approach to its online holiday strategy than close rival Walmart.com, he said.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc's WMT.N Web site, Walmart.com, is trying to drive shoppers to its site by emphasizing limited-time, online-only sales and providing free shipping to its stores for items purchased online.

Instead, Target.com is matching its online promotions with the holiday deals being highlighted in Target’s discount stores, and it is offering free shipping on many items to shoppers’ homes.

“A key element of our promotional strategy is free shipping to a guest’s home, which we believe is much better than free shipping to a store from a guest standpoint,” he said.

But Wal-Mart has said that offering free shipping to its stores has helped it boost in-store sales when customers retrieve their purchases.

Nitschke said he expects more consumers to complete their online purchases closer to December 18, the last day standard shipping is available to get items delivered in time for Christmas.

Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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