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story.lead_photo.caption This June 25, 2019, file photo shows the entrance to a Walmart in Pittsburgh.

Walmart Inc. will offer its online Christmas season deals starting at 11 tonight, the earliest ever for the retailer. This will help make up for a shortened shopping season because of a late Thanksgiving this year, a Walmart executive said Wednesday.

Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28, so Black Friday, traditionally considered the official start of the Christmas shopping season, is Nov. 29. That gives retailers six fewer days than usual to cash in on the annual buying frenzy.

Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Walmart's U.S. division, said in a news briefing that while the e-commerce discounts are starting early, stores will be ready for Christmas shoppers on Nov. 1, as usual. However, he said Walmart has already begun cutting prices in store toy departments.

Besides tonight's "Deal Drop," will offer additional discounts throughout the season on many of its most popular gift items, such as electronics, toys, home decor, sporting goods and apparel.

Walmart also is adding some new and enhanced features this year to make shopping easier and more convenient, Bratspies said. One of these is a scannable toy catalog, which will be available Nov. 1. For the first time, customers can use the Walmart app on their smartphones to scan and shop items from the seasonal catalog.

For shoppers, a new feature called Gift Finder provides suggestions for hard-to-shop-for gift recipients. Customers provide information describing the recipient and a price range, and get a list of personalized gift recommendations.

Also, the Check Out With Me service that debuted during last year's Christmas shopping season in many stores will now be available at all Walmart U.S. Supercenters. Store employees will be placed in high-traffic areas to scan customers' items and complete sales transactions on their mobile devices, sparing shoppers from long lines at the cash register.

Another existing service, called the DotCom Store, also is expanding to all Supercenters. Customers who can't find an item on the shelves can place an online order with a Walmart employee. The item can be sent to the customer's home or to the store for pickup.

Bratspies pointed out that this will be the first Christmas shopping season in which many customers can choose free next-day delivery for online orders of $35 or more, without a subscription or membership fee. Walmart initiated the service in May in select markets, but Bratspies said it's now available to 75% of the U.S. population. E-commerce rival also offers next-day delivery, but only to its Prime customers, who pay a $119 annual membership fee.

Walmart already offers same-day grocery pickup and delivery options in many locations, as well as free two-day shipping on millions of items.

The Bentonville retailer is the second most-popular choice for Christmas shopping across all income groups, according to JLL's 2019 Holiday Shopping Survey. Researchers found 36% of the 1,000 U.S. shoppers surveyed plan to do their shopping at Walmart, while 38% plan to shop on Amazon. Nearly 30% said they will shop at Target.

Target Corp. of Minneapolis will once again offer free shipping on orders placed between Nov. 1 and Dec. 21. Also, Best Buy is offering free next-day delivery on thousands of products, though it's excluding larger and heavier items like big-screen televisions and refrigerators.

Business on 10/24/2019

Print Headline: Walmart's online holiday deals get early start

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