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story.lead_photo.caption Wal-Mart plans to offer more merchandise in its stores and online for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Its digital and in-store aisles will be stocked with 1.5 million televisions, nearly 2 million tablets and computers and 3 million video games. - Photo by AP / JULIO CORTEZ

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will increase the amount of Black Friday merchandise allocated to its website by more than 50 percent as the retailer competes for sales in the critical shopping season.

Steve Bratspies, the company's chief merchandising officer for U.S. stores, said the increase is part of Wal-Mart's strategy for the anticipated sales rush that begins on Thanksgiving. Bratspies said on a conference call that the retailer intends to offer low prices and to do everything possible to make sure items are available for customers whether they're shopping online or in stores.

"We expect more customers to shop at Wal-Mart than have previously," Bratspies said. "Some of that will be online. Some of that will be in the stores. We try to balance our inventory and our offerings across the channels as best we can."

The majority of the retailer's Black Friday deals will be available online at Walmart.com beginning at 12:01 a.m. EST on Thanksgiving. In Arkansas, the online deals start at 11:01 p.m. on Nov. 23. While stores will be open all day on Thanksgiving, the Black Friday sales will begin at 6 p.m. in each time zone. But Wal-Mart said some deals will begin being offered today on select items through Wal-Mart's app.

Wal-Mart said its digital and physical aisles will be stocked with 1.5 million televisions, nearly 2 million tablets and computers and 3 million video games for its Black Friday sales event. Deals also will include items like drones, toys, movies, kitchen appliances and pajamas.

Bratspies said the retailer has worked hard the past year on Black Friday merchandise and inventory so there's an opportunity for "all of the customers to get what they want."

"We're not big on putting a product on the cover of our circular and then only having a couple per store," Bratspies said Wednesday. "We don't feel like that's the right way to treat customers."

The increased amount of Black Friday merchandise allocated to Walmart.com falls in line with the retailer's efforts to emphasize its e-commerce operations, which accounted for about $14 billion in revenue in fiscal 2016. Wal-Mart has spent billions on building e-commerce fulfillment centers and improving technology to boost its online capabilities. The retailer purchased Jet.com for $3.3 billion earlier this year and has hired founder Marc Lore as its e-commerce chief.

Online sales also are expected to play a big role for a holiday season in which consumers are projected to spend $655.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Consumers polled by the trade association indicated plans to split their time evenly between shopping department stores, online and in discount stores. In addition, an annual survey conducted by consulting firm Deloitte indicated that shoppers plan to spend as much online as in traditional stores.

Rod Sides, Deloitte's vice chairman, said in a statement it's further evidence that customer expectations are being shaped as much by digital purchases as the in-store shopping.

"The way people shop online is having a profound impact on holiday spending this year," Sides said in the statement. "Retailers must cater to that digital mindset long before someone walks into a store. If retailers treat online and in-store shopping as mutually reinforcing rather than competitive forces, they can create more opportunities across the business."

Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, said companies that don't have their omnichannel acts together have less to gain on Black Friday. But Wal-Mart -- which predicts 280 million visits to its app in November and December -- is not in that category because it offers "multiple convenience options" for customers.

"Walmart has a long-standing reputation for delivering value and price-driven excitement on Black Friday so it really is a matter of continuing to do so and avoiding unforced errors (website shut-downs, slow check-outs or crowd management snafus, for example)," Spieckerman said in an email.

Store maps pointing to some of the best Black Friday deals also will be available once again this season on the retailer's app beginning Nov. 17, and printed copies will be available in stores.

Wal-Mart has previously introduced "holiday helpers" in stores to make the checkout process easier for customers and expanded the assortment of items available through its same-day pickup service for the holidays.

The retailer said it receives up to five times as many same-day pickup orders during the holidays compared with a normal week and would allocate more staff to help customers who are collecting those online orders at the stores.

"I would expect this year to be as competitive if not more competitive than in any year that we've seen in the past," Bratspies said. "But we feel pretty good about our position in the market. I feel like our offering is really strong. I'm excited about our pricing. We've got a great plan in stores. So we're ready for about any level of competition that's out there."

Target Corp. announced Wednesday that it will open its stores at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. J.C. Penney Co. stores will open at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Business on 11/10/2016

Print Headline: Wal-Mart heaps up Net items

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