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MINNEAPOLIS-Target Corp., which expects an intensely competitive holiday season ahead, told investors in a conference call yesterday that it is poised to respond quickly to price-cutting by competitors. Company officials also announced that Target has expanded its presence across the US with the opening of 59 new stores, and has introduced several new in-store initiatives during the third quarter, which ended Oct. 29.

“Fourth quarter is always a very competitive timeframe, and this year we expect more of the same,” said Gregg Steinhafel, president, “Wal-Mart takes a generally very aggressive stand in small appliances, toys and electronics. We respond aggressively so that we are competitively priced on like items in like markets. As we get deeper into the holiday season, we expect to experience more price-cutting and we will respond as quickly as we possibly can to make sure that our prices are in line.”

This fall Target followed Wal-Mart’s cost-cutting lead and began offering generic drugs for $4 in several markets across the country. Company officials say they expect this program, which currently applies to the sales of more than 300 generic drugs in 27 states, to have little impact on the bottom line. “We believe that the price reduction in the generics will at least be offset by the increase in traffic that we will get through the prescription transfer and the sale of other over-the-counter products,” Steinhafel said.

Target, which experienced a 4.6% increase in comparable store sales during third quarter, expects another mid-single-digit increase in comparable store sales in the fourth quarter. Standout categories in the third quarter were infant and toddler basics and apparel, men’s and boys’ apparel, healthcare and food.

Third quarter store openings after closures and relocations resulted in 36 new discount stores and 14 new Super Targets. The company currently operates 1,494 stores in 47 states. In-store initiatives introduced during the quarter include contract cell phones by T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, extended service plans for other consumer electronic products, and a new home collection called Perfect Pieces. Target also expanded its Archer Farms food brand and was designated as a certified organic retailer.

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