Walmart is stepping up the number of sale items on its website and revising its system that guarantees availability of certain hot-ticket items over Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday to control crowds during the busiest shopping season of the year.
On Tuesday, the nation's largest retailer announced that it is launching pre-Black Friday savings starting this Friday by lowering prices on popular toys and electronics to match offers from Best Buy, Target and Toys "R" Us one week early. Walmart is also extending its Christmas ad matching policy, which was previously limited to in-store purchases, to Walmart.com customers, from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24.
"Walmart's not going to be beat on price," Steve Bratspies, executive vice president, general merchandise for Walmart U.S., told reporters on Tuesday.
Over 100 toys and electronics will be a part of the pre-Black Friday deals that begin on Friday. Among the deals are Hot Wheels cars, which are Walmart's biggest unit mover in its toy department, on sale for 60 cents from 97 cents. A game of Monopoly will be available for $5, down from its usual price of $7.77.
Five years after a Walmart employee was trampled to death on Black Friday in a Long Island, N.Y., store, national retailers and authorities have taken extra precautions to control crowds amid door-buster deals. The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent letters to the country's biggest retailers, fire departments and other groups, to remind them of safety precautions related to shopping sales.
Dan Toporek, vice president, corporate communications for Walmart E-Commerce, said the company has about five million products on its website, compared with about two million last year, while about 99 percent of the items are eligible for free shipping, Toporek said.
"People are going to shop the way they want to shop," Toporek added.
Last week, Walmart announced it will offer 21 items as part of its in-store "one-hour guarantee" program, compared to three items last year, starting on Thanksgiving at 6 p.m.
Bratspies said the company expanded its one-hour guarantee program because the biggest complaint of Black Friday shoppers is that a store didn't have the item they intended to buy.
Walmart will distribute a limited supply of wrist bands to customers before two one-hour blocks of time, starting at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Customers with wrist bands can shop while they wait for the 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. events to start. Then shoppers with a wristband can return to the designated line within two hours after the event's start time to pick up their item.
To meet the high demand, Bratspies said Walmart purchased 65 percent more televisions this year and five times the number of tablets. If customers with wristbands find their product is sold out, they can still buy it at the discounted price and get the item later.
Twenty-one specific hot-ticket items will be guaranteed at discounted prices for in-store customers who have wristbands. According to a Walmart circular, these items include an iPad mini at $299, which includes a $100 Walmart gift card with purchase, available starting at 6 p.m. for one hour.
Starting at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, items like Beats by Dr. Dre Solo headphones will be available to wristband holders for $114.95, a savings of $85. For one hour starting at 8 a.m. on Black Friday, iPhone 5S models will be available for $189 with a two-year contract and come with a $75 Walmart gift card for a future purchase. In addition, customers can also trade in their old iPhones for up to $300 of in-store credit toward the purchase of their new smartphone and a wireless contract.
"It's the Super Bowl of retail," Bratspies said. "You've got to be on the field and ready to play."