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Wal-Mart unwraps aggressive holiday plans

Anne D’Innocenzio Associated Press

NEW YORK – Wal-Mart is doing whatever it takes to rope in holiday shoppers, however they want to buy.

For the first time, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is offering free shipping on what it considers the season’s top 100 hottest gifts, from board games to items related to Disney’s hit film “Frozen,” starting today. The move comes as rival Target Corp. began offering free shipping on all items, a program that started in late October and will last through Dec. 20.

Wal-Mart also is planning to offer discounts, or what it refers to as “rollbacks,” on more than 20,000 items on a broad range of products, from groceries to TVs, starting today. The timing is similar to last year, but the discounter said the assortment is broader. It’s also pulling forward by nearly a month 15 24-hour online deals originally reserved for the Thanksgiving weekend and so-called Cyber Monday, about double from last year. For the first time, Wal-Mart will allow shoppers to pick up those 24-hour online specials at the store. They include 40-inch Element TVs for $199, down from $298, and Crayola Paint Makers for $12, down from $18.88. Customers will be able to purchase the deals online starting shortly after midnight Monday.

The online deals are in addition to several hundred online holiday specials that start today.

Wal-Mart unveiled some of the details of its holiday strategy as it considers matching online prices from competitors such as Amazon.com, a move that could help grab more customers but also could hurt profit margins.

Wal-Mart is trying to rev up sluggish sales in the U.S. as it battles competition from online retailers, dollar stores and drugstores. At the same time, it’s also dealing with a slowly recovering economy that hasn’t benefited its low-income shoppers. As a result, Wal-Mart’s U.S. namesake stores, which account for 60 percent of its total business, haven’t reported growth in a key sales measure in six straight quarters.

Wal-Mart’s move underscores how stores are being forced to step up their game for the holiday shopping season, which accounts for about 20 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales. The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, forecasts a 4.1 percent sales increase to $616.9 billion for November and December from last year. But online sales, which are included in the forecast, are expected to increase from 8 percent to 11 percent.

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