Finds Direct Mail Edge

While Wal-Mart has taken it on the chin from retail analysts this week because it discounted less aggressively over the Thanksgiving weekend than in previous years, another new — and more successful — promotional strategy from the Bentonville, AR, retailer has gone mostly unnoticed.

Wal-Mart mailed fliers in several large markets last week that do not have a Wal-Mart store, including New York, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco and Boston. The fliers promoted specials available only online or by calling an 800 number. “” appears prominently on every page of the four-page mailer but nowhere is a Wal-Mart store mentioned.

Since this year was the first time Wal-Mart offered online specials for the Thanksgiving weekend, the fliers' goal was “to inform customers who don't have easy accessibility to a Wal-Mart store that they can easily shop Wal-Mart through,” spokeswoman Amy Colella said.

In contrast with the stores, which experienced slower foot traffic and sales compared with Thanksgiving weeks in previous years, had “a very successful Thanksgiving Day and week online,” Colella said. The company plans to evaluate the direct mailer's performance and will consider repeating the program next year.

Meanwhile, several newspaper articles this week indicate that Wal-Mart is reconsidering its decision to reign in its discounting thanks to the chain's sluggish performance in November.

Wal-Mart lowered its sales estimates for November on Saturday and now expects to report a 0.7 percent increase in same-store sales for the month. It previously projected a 2 percent to 4 percent gain. The chain cited a decline in customer traffic toward the end of the week that ended on Black Friday as a reason for the revision.

Industry consultant Donald R. Libey, who has predicted for several years that Wal-Mart might do a catalog, views last week's fliers as a precursor to that decision.

“I see it as a really unfortunate evolution if they do move to the point of a catalog because I believe that Wal-Mart, with its size and global reach, will have far more detriment on our industry than it will bring good,” said Libey, managing director of Libey-Concordia, Philadelphia, an investment banking firm for the catalog industry.

Though shippers and printers would benefit from the additional business, other catalogers lack Wal-Mart's buying power and many would go the way of all the local mom-and-pop stores over the past several decades once Wal-Mart came to town, he said.

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