Wal-Mart Brings Christmas Back and Cuts More Prices, Too

This holiday season, Wal-Mart isn't trumpeting big bargains only. It's also bringing "Christmas" back into its marketing, after several years of playing down the term.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s (WMT) Christmas cheer seems to be a hot trend this season as several other retailers including Kohl's Corp. and Macy's, a division of Federated Department Stores Inc. (FD), are also stepping up their Christmas marketing. The moves respond to mounting criticism from religious groups that staged boycotts against Wal-Mart and other merchants after they eliminated or de-emphasized "Christmas" in their advertising.

"We learned a lesson from that. Merry Christmas is now part of the vocabulary here at Wal-Mart," said Linda Blakley, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

Wal-Mart said Thursday that it will launch its first Christmas-specific TV ad in several years, feature Christmas shops, previously called Holiday Shops, and increase the number of seasonal merchandise labeled "Christmas" instead of "holiday" by 60 percent.

Macy's is adding Christmas signage in all of its department stores and Kohl's is playing up Christmas this year in its TV, print and radio advertising, according to Vicki Shamion, a Kohl's spokeswoman.

Still, not everyone is following suit.

"We are going to continue to use the term holiday because there are several holidays throughout that time period, and we certainly need to be respectful of all of them," said Dawn Bryant, a spokeswoman at Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY), whose advertising omits any reference to Christmas.

Wal-Mart shoppers got another early Christmas present on Friday when the world's largest retailer cut prices on appliances a week after slashing them on electronics and before that, toys.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — worried that holiday sales could be sluggish — has been aggressively slashing prices in a strategy that many of its rivals seem likely to follow, turning a boon for consumers into what may be a bane for retail profits.

On Friday, Wal-Mart announced discounts ranging from around 7 percent to 17 percent on roughly 50 small home appliances, including GE microwaves and programmable coffee makers. The prices are effective immediately through Christmas, a company spokeswoman said.

It is the third round so far of holiday discounts at Wal-Mart, which it calls rollbacks. Last Friday, Wal-Mart cut prices on almost 100 electronics items, and in October it introduced discounts on more than 100 toys.

"Wal-Mart will continue to roll back the prices of toys, electronics, apparel and more this holiday season to ensure that shoppers can find the season's best merchandise at one destination at the great prices," the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said in a statement.

The discounting moves have come after Wal-Mart reported disappointing October sales and the weakest November outlook in a decade.

Chief Executive Lee Scott told analysts last month the chain would refocus on selling basic items and price rollbacks after a year in which Wal-Mart went too far in stocking many trendy items, including its new fashion line, Metro 7.

Wal-Mart's same-store sales in the U.S. for the four weeks ended Oct. 27 grew 0.5 percent, a figure that includes growth of a mere 0.3 percent at Wal-Mart Stores and 2 percent at Sam's Club. It forecast flat sales in November.

Wal-Mart blamed the lackluster sales on a variety of factors, including a failed apparel strategy that went too trendy and a store remodeling program that it says disrupted business.

The company also said that its sales growth paled in comparison because the year-earlier results were bloated by a rush of pre- and post-hurricane shopping.