Walmart’s Head Start on Holiday Shopping

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) will be kicking off its holiday sales earlier than ever before this year as it places a big bet that shoppers are finally ready to spend this holiday season. Doors open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Walmart has already begun to stock up in preparation for the crowds. “We bought deep, very deep, and we bought deep on items that matter to our customers,” said Walmart U.S. Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer Duncan Mac Naughton.

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The holiday season is critical for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and its Walmart U.S. division, as more than a quarter of its annual sales come during that time.

With holiday spending only expected to rise 4.1 percent this year, according to the National Retail Federation, down from 5.6 percent growth in 2011, retailers are looking for new ways to draw in shoppers and get an edge on the competition.

In mid-September, Walmart kicked off its layaway program, a full month earlier than in 2011.

The holiday shopping season usually kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, which has become known as Black Friday. But retailers have been opening stores earlier and earlier in recent years in response to customer feedback.

While Walmart began keeping its stores open overnight after a customer was trampled as doors opened on Black Friday in 2008, it rolls out deals throughout the evening and early hours of the morning. In 2011, Walmart began with deals on toys, home items, and clothing at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, followed by electronics deals at midnight, and other offers beginning Friday at 8 a.m.

This year, Walmart kicks off the deals at 8 p.m. with offers including deals on video games starting at $10 and home appliances such as a Crock pot slow cooker and a Mr. Coffee maker for $9.44 each.

Walmart has also promised that it will have three items available that night to people standing in line in its stores between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Those shoppers will be guaranteed access to an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad 2 16GB with Wi-Fi, priced at $399 with a $75 Walmart Gift Card; a 32-inch Emerson 720p LCD TV at $148, roughly $80 below the usual price; and an LG Blu-ray player for $38 that Walmart does not typically sell but said goes for $68 to $79 at other retailers.

Walmart will take a break from special deals after that, giving shoppers a chance to go home and rest or perhaps visit other stores, though its doors will remain open. Last year, some key competitors, including Target (NYSE:TGT) and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), kicked off sales at 12 a.m. Friday. Best Buy has said it plans to open at midnight again, while Target has not yet given plans.

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