In pandemic Christmas, U.S. rivals aim to challenge Amazon under the tree

Retailers are bolstering their online gift features, hoping to challenge Amazon.com's dominance as a seller of holiday gifts to homebound shoppers.
Reuters
Reuters
November 20th 2020Nov 20, 2020

The new services seek to take some of the drudgery out of gift-giving. The features let consumers purchase a present online and have it delivered to the recipient with, for example, the retailer handling wrapping, a personal message or a receipt that does not show the gift’s price.

Amazon’s rivals have tried to chip away at its online preeminence, spending millions to fulfill orders faster, expand product catalogs and, in some cases, provide free shipping and even subscription services. But the first holiday sales season with widespread coronavirus has drawn attention to a previously overlooked battlefront: gift giving.

Consumers flocked to Walmart and other retailers early in the pandemic when Amazon was at times slow to deliver essentials including toilet paper. Now, Amazon competitors see another opportunity to seize market share.

“This is an area of opportunity where smaller or large retailers could differentiate given most consumers will be doing their holiday shopping online this year,” said Bobby Figueroa, who worked for Amazon’s ad sales unit before founding retail analytics startup Gradient.

Walmart.com on Oct. 28 added a “gift eligible” label on hundreds of thousands of U.S. product pages, including for toilet paper, a status previously not displayed until checkout. Gift eligible means Walmart can send gift receipts as well as let shoppers customize an email greeting. It will also ship the item in its boxes, concealing manufacturer packaging.

With gift giving already up over last year, Walmart increased inventory of laptops, loungewear and exercise equipment ahead of the holidays. Shoppers can search specifically for only gift-eligible items for the first time.

BestBuy.com in mid-October added an option for gift receipts with store pickups. It also started allowing shoppers to arrange for Best Buy to email gift recipients with a festive greeting on the same day items are delivered.

Estée Lauder Companies Inc EL.N this year is using technology from startup SmartGift that added options across five of its websites for shoppers to designate cosmetics and other items as gifts while letting recipients select color, size or scent before shipping.

Americans will spend $160 billion on gifts during the current quarter, up 5% from a year ago as people put savings from skipped outings into celebrating Christmas and other year-end holidays, according to industry analyst Coresight Research.

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