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story.lead_photo.caption This undated file photo shows Wal-Mart's sign in front of its Bentonville headquarters.

Walmart Inc. is countering Amazon.com’s annual Prime Day with it is own online shopping blowout. Walmart’s Big Save event will offer “Black Friday-like” deals from 6 p.m. Oct. 11 through Oct. 15, the company said.

Target Corp. will get in on the action, too, with its Deal Days coinciding with Amazon’s Prime Days on Oct. 13-14.

Bentonville-based Walmart made its announcement on Sept. 28, the same day Amazon and Target revealed their plans.

Prime Day is usually held in July but was delayed this year because the coronavirus pandemic disrupted Amazon’s supply chain, the e-commerce giant said.

Walmart and Target were thinking strategically by scheduling their promotions in the same week as Amazon’s, said Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail.

“Rather than risk pulling the holiday trigger too fast by scheduling promotions well in advance of Amazon’s Prime Day, Walmart and Target are betting on participating in a multiday feeding frenzy of their own making,” Spieckerman said. “This strategy should stimulate shopping activity and benefit all three retailers, but only if they have a clear game plan and the ability to react in real time.”

The companies must plan how they will differentiate themselves, such as offering unique items and competitive pricing, Spieckerman said. “Making on-the-fly adjustments to product selection, pricing and inventory will be mandatory,” she said.

When Walmart said it would close for Thanksgiving this year, and other retailers followed suit, analysts speculated that Christmas sales events would begin well before Halloween. And Black Friday, long considered the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, will have even less relevance than in recent years.

But this convergence of October sales isn’t just another example of “Christmas creep,” another retail industry expert said. Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research, said it’s also a response to the pandemic.

Kodali said retailers have planned for many months to do everything they can to avoid crowds in their stores this year, such as moving up sales and converting sales to e-commerce. Chief executives at Target, Macy’s and Kohl’s explicitly said as much in their last earnings calls, she said.

“Retailers can’t afford to have throngs of people in their stores on Black Friday,” Kodali said, risking “fights and massive vectors of infection spread in November and December.”

Kodali doesn’t see shoppers going on spending sprees anyway this Christmas season, given the recession and historic unemployment rates. “About a quarter of people told us they are going to spend less than last year during the holidays,” she said.

According to Coresight Research, 48% of shoppers say they plan to spend less this Christmas. That could significantly affect the entire industry, since the season’s sales represent more than 20% of total annual U.S. retail sales, Coresight said in its 2020 U.S. Holiday Retail Report.

Nevertheless, Walmart started ramping up for the Christmas season in late September when it began hiring 20,000 temporary workers to staff its U.S. e-commerce fulfillment centers. The new hires will start work immediately and stay on through Jan. 1.

The retailer also said it has shipped more toys than usual to its fulfillment centers in anticipation of increased online demand this Christmas.

Walmart’s Big Save event will include price cuts on top-selling items as well as products from its third-party marketplace sellers, the company said. Free two-day shipping will be available on orders over $35 for eligible items, and some may be eligible for free next-day delivery or in-store pickup.

Shoppers have already embraced e-commerce during the pandemic. Walmart’s online business nearly doubled in the second quarter this year, and sales at Walmart.com’s marketplace grew by a triple-digit percentage, the retailer said in its second-quarter earnings report.

E-commerce represents only a small portion of the company’s overall sales. Although Walmart doesn’t report figures from its online business, it said those sales helped its U.S. division reach $93.3 billion in the quarter, an increase of 9.5%.

Target said in a news release Tuesday that its Deal Days on Target.com or through the Target app will feature discounts on more than twice as many items as last year when the event debuted. Like Prime Day, last year’s sale also was held in July.

Many items will be available through Target’s drive-up order pickup and same-day delivery, and some price cuts will appear on the website starting Monday, the Minneapolis retailer said.

Amazon introduced Prime Day on July 15, 2015, as a one-day event. Its discount prices are available only to Prime members, who pay $119 a year for benefits such as free two-day shipping and access to streaming music and video content.

To get a jump on the competition, Amazon began offering specials on Wednesday to Prime members across a number of categories.

Still, shoppers likely will see the three retailers’ mid-October events as a signal to start Christmas shopping as well as a chance to snag bargains for themselves, Spieckerman said.

“Overall, it’s a great strategy that puts the pressure on Amazon,” she said.

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