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Black Friday at Wal-Mart to begin early, be highly complicated

First Published      Last Updated Nov 12 2013 11:08 am

Black Friday will begin early, gradually and complicatedly this year for shoppers at megastore Wal-Mart.

The Arkansas-based retailer announced plans Monday to begin regular, in-store sales Thanksgiving day at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than last year. But the earlier start time won't be a free-for-all. Instead, the 6 p.m. sales will only include some items — sheets, clothing, video games, etc. — while other products will go on sale two hours later, at 8 p.m.

The next day — the actual Black Friday — the store will start yet another "sales event" at 8 a.m., with yet another group of products offered on discount. Friday sales also will include "manager's specials" in which store managers drop prices on high-demand products.

Shoppers looking to get a head start can begin even earlier online; Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer, said deals on the company's website will begin "early in the morning" on Thanksgiving Day, though he did not provide a specific start time for Web sales.

The retailer also is bringing back its "one-hour guarantee" program, which debuted in 2012. The program promises sale items to customers who wait in designated lines at specific times.

So, for example, Wal-Mart will be selling a Vizio 60-inch TV for $688 — a price Wal-Mart says is discounted by $310. That sale begins Thursday at 6 p.m. The one-hour guarantee means that anyone who waits in line to buy the item Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. will get the huge TV at the discounted price.

Wal-Mart will offer a total of 21 guaranteed items including iPad Minis, high definition TVs, toys, video games, computers and other items.

And as if the array of sales' start times and guaranteed items weren't complicated enough, Wal-Mart also is rolling out a new wristband program. The program allows customers to show up prior to the two Thursday evening sales and collect a wristband. The wristband essentially saves customers a place in line; once they have it, they can continue shopping and then "come back to the designated line within two hours after the event start time to pick up their product," according to a news release.

The number of wristbands are limited, too.

The complicated sales programs promise to be a bonanza for highly dedicated shoppers who will be able to snap up deals earlier and with greater efficiency than in previous years.

However, casual Black Friday shoppers may find themselves having to do considerably more pre-sale homework or risk showing up at the wrong time or place.

Mac Naughton described the staggered Black Friday scheme as a boon for customers, saying it will allow them to "take advantage of great prices thanksgiving night and all weekend long." He also said stores will have more inventory this year than during past Black Fridays.

According to Mac Naughton, the decision to move the first sales up into middle of Thanksgiving evening was based on "many variables." He pointed out that "almost everybody" has similarly moved up their sales and that Black Friday is the "Super Bowl of retail."

"We thought 6 o'clock was the exact right time for us to win the weekend," he added.

Mac Naughton said there will be about 1 million Wal-Mart employees working Thanksgiving day. Those employees will earn extra pay, will get 25 percent off a single purchase that they can make in December and will be fed a Thanksgiving dinner during their break.


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