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Walmart's Black Friday Plans Try to Control Crowds

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-11_06574dc6c7.jpgWalmart (NEW YORK) -- 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 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 $11.77.

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.

When asked if Walmart is offering better online deals to help with crowd control in stores, Dan Toporek, vice president, corporate communications for Walmart E-Commerce, said deeper discounts and more products online are just an added benefit.  Walmart now has about five million products on its website, compared with about two million last year, while about 99 percent of the items come with 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 three 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.

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.

"It's the Super Bowl of retail," Bratspies said.  "You've got to be on the field and ready to play."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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