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Target is setting up a reservations system to manage lines on holiday shopping days

While retailers typically love to see their stores mobbed—especially during the holidays—they are avoiding that like the plague this year.

Retailers from Walmart to Home Depot have been limiting the number of shoppers allowed at a time to facilitate social distancing. Target is taking that one step further by setting up an online reservation system to allow people to get dibs on a spot in a line before leaving their homes on busy shopping days in the holiday season, which is getting started in earnest now.

While Target has been one of retail’s big winners during the pandemic—comparable sales in the second quarter rose 24%, its best results ever—it has sought to manage crowds to avoid scaring away shoppers wary of COVID-19 and reducing staff exposure to the virus. Shoppers can visit target.com/line to see if there is a line at a store, and if so, secure a place in it. The retailer has given store workers tools to meter shopper traffic.

“As we get closer to the core holiday season, we want to make sure we’re being really proactive,” CEO Brian Cornell told reporters on a media call. “We want to make sure we are prepared in the event that there are any big lines in any individual store.”

Other tools Target is using include a new mobile payment option in its app that facilitates self-checkout without the need to touch the scanning device. Target has benefited enormously from the rollout of its curbside pickup service for online orders, where shoppers just drive up to a dedicated spot in the parking lot to retrieve their merchandise. Such orders rose eightfold last quarter over the year-earlier quarter. Target is now doubling the number of drive-up spots by adding 8,000 at its 1,900 or so stores.

As is the case with other retailers, Target has gotten off to an earlier start with its holiday deals, starting with a sales event that coincided with Amazon’s Prime Day. Walmart is opting for three separate, major sales events in November, rather than one big blowout around Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday to avoid overcrowding stores, a strategy followed by its close rival.

“We expect that guests will shop earlier, and it’s going to be an extended shopping season. We’re not expecting—and we’re not trying to drive—big shopping events like we have in the past,” said Cornell.

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