Wal-Mart jumps the gun on Black Friday?
Hoping to fire up weak sales, No. 1 retailer is reportedly trotting out some holiday deals, such as a $398 laptop, several weeks early.
By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com staff writer

It looks like Wal-Mart - after some spooky October sales figures - isn't waiting until Black Friday to unveil its holiday bargains and get people buying again at its discount stores.

According to Gottadeal.com, a Web site that markets itself as the "official Black Friday deals site," Wal-Mart (Charts) will begin offering hot pre-holiday deals as early as next Sunday, including the Compaq Presario V5305WM laptop for $398.

Gottadeal.com says the deal is contained in what appears to be Wal-Mart's ad circular for the period of Nov. 5 to Nov. 11, a copy of which it says it obtained and featured on its site.

The ad says there will be a minimum of 15 such laptops per store and the retailer will limit purchase to 1 per customer.

Typically Wal-Mart and other retailers debut their best deals for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a few days in advance.

Last year, Wal-Mart offered Black Friday customers a Hewlett-Packard (Charts) Pavilion notebook computer for a low price of $378. Industry analysts said it was one of the hottest deals of the holiday season and even led to in-store fights among shoppers.

"Wal-Mart has concluded that its customers think it's a great place to shop for holiday bargains at the beginning of the season, when shoppers have an entire list to work with, and not so much as the season winds up," said Britt Beemer, a retail industry expert and chairman of market research firm America's Research Group.

"Therefore, it would make sense that Wal-Mart has noticed this trend and is powering up its sales early to go after the full gift list, versus trying to battle the competition for the one or two items left on the list right before Christmas," Beemer said.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst with NPD Group, said he's pretty sure Wal-Mart will repeat some of the early discounts, especially on laptops and other gadgets, on Black Friday.

"Expect to find the best deals on televisions, computers, music products, home products and fashion clothing," said Cohen. "Given how poorly Wal-Mart's fashion brands have done this year, it'll be like Wal-Mart is giving away these clothing brands."

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart (Charts), the world's largest retailer set deep price cuts on more than 80 of this year's must-have toys, a move that signals its intention to be especially aggressive with pricing over the key November and December gift-buying months, a period accounts for as much as 50 percent of retailers' annual profits and sales.

However, the move didn't help boost Wal-Mart's sales this month. In its weekly sales update Saturday, the retailer reported that October sales at its U.S. stores open at least a year - a key retail metric known as same-store sales - rose a much weaker-than-expected 0.5 percent.

The figure was even lower than Wal-Mart's recently reduced guidance of a 1 percent increase. The retailer initially projected a 2 to 4 percent rise.

Wal-Mart and other chain store merchants report their final October sales results Thursday.

The day after Thanksgiving is dubbed "Black Friday" because it's when retailers are said to finally move out of the red, representing losses, and into the black, indicating profits. It also marks the start of the four-week shopping blitz leading up to Christmas.

Brad Olson, the founder of Gottadeal.com, told CNNMoney.com that he hasn't yet obtained Wal-Mart's specific Black Friday deals. But he was able to get a sneak peek at the juicy bargains consumers can bag Nov. 24 at another retailer - Sears (Charts).

These include a Craftsman 104-piece mechanics toolset for $49.99; Toshiba 42HP66 42-inch widescreen plasma HDTV priced at $1,199.99; 1-carat diamond bracelet for $99.99 and a Kodak EasyShare 7.1 megapixel digital camera with printer dock for $244.

Wal-Mart could not immediately be reached for comment.

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