Malcolm Graham
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Malcolm Graham in US Markets,

Wal-Mart changes Black Friday tack in bid to keep it ‘simple’

Retailer will stretch out discounts through the holidays


Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is pulling back on the Black Friday frenzy this year.

Instead of stretching the event over about five days as the retailer did last year, Wal-Mart WMT, -1.09% will offer deep discounts on gift items like TVs, DVDs and pajamas starting at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving at its stores until they are gone. The retailer plans to offer longer term, though less drastic, discounts through the holiday season.

When deeply discounted so called “door-buster” products are promoted for multiple days, consumers are confused about the best time to shop, said Steve Bratspies, the company’s new chief merchandising officer, at a press event inside a Wal-Mart in New Jersey on Wednesday. “They want simple,” he said.

Wal-Mart will offer most Black Friday deals online first, starting early on Nov. 26, Thanksgiving.

Last year too Wal-Mart opened its stores at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, but stretched its door-buster deals over five days. Executives, at the time, said shoppers no longer wanted to deal with the stress of a single day of deals.

The shift reflects an increasingly delicate balance many retailers are navigating around the holidays---how to give shoppers the feeling that they should buy quickly to grab deals, while also offering enticing promotions anytime a customer happens to shop in a store or online for gifts. Adding pressure on retailers to get it right, shoppers tend to spend most in the first store they shop for gifts, likely drawn by a big deal on a high-ticket item, retail consultants said. Black Friday deals, typically, can lure such shoppers.

But Black Friday sales have continued to shrink as a percentage of total holiday sales, according to research from AlixPartners LLP, a consulting firm. About 40% of shoppers say they start buying gifts before Halloween, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation.

An extended version of this story can be found at WSJ.com