Wal-Mart: Consumers Can Shop Til They Drop Black Friday

In an effort to gain a leg up on the competition, several retailers have recently announced earlier store-hour openings for Black Friday. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) set the pace this year by saying it will open its door’s at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Other retailers are are following its lead, but Wal-Mart also expects to boost sales through enhanced digital offerings.

Shortly after Wal-Mart revealed it will essentially be moving Black Friday to Thanksgiving Day, Target (NYSE:TGT) and Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) also moved up their “must-have” deals for the holiday season. Target will begin Black Friday at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, while Sears has doorbusters starting at 8 p.m. The retail sector is a highly competitive area, but Wal-Mart is hoping to attract more traffic away from competitors through consumers using mobile devices.

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Gibu Thomas, senior vice president of mobile and digital strategy at Wal-Mart, explains to Internet Retailer that 40 percent of shoppers visiting the world’s largest retailer electronically this holiday season will do so on a smartphone or tablet. In comparison, this is nearly three times the percentage of mobile traffic from last year’s holiday season. Wal-Mart is looking to further capitalize from the shift to mobile by updating its app for smartphones and tablets.

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With the holidays in mind, the company enhanced the app’s Store Mode functionality, which helps shoppers make purchases in store. The app also includes local ads, a shopping list and store maps for those hard to find items. Wal-Mart explains that 12 percent of its mobile-commerce sales come when customers are already in the store, signaling that shoppers are also using the app to make purchases when the item is not in stock, as opposed to traveling to a competitor’s store for the same item.

“Mobile is not purely for driving transactions online,” Thomas says, according to Internet Retailer. “We think of mobile as the glue that binds our online and offline channels together to provide a seamless experience to our customers anytime and anywhere at the tap of a finger. If a customer comes to our mobile app, views her local ad and adds something to her app’s shopping list, then buys it in-store, that’s a mobile success for us.”

For this year’s Black Friday event, Wal-Mart has special store maps to help shoppers locate doorbusters via its app on smartphones or the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad. It will also deliver push notification messages the weekend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, alerting app users to the latest deals and store events. App users, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) fans and email subscribers will even receive special online access to Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving Day, hours before they go on sale in stores.

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