Walmart to start Black Friday online shopping earlier this year

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Walmart Inc. stores will kick off Black Friday online shopping two hours earlier this year, and throw a party for shoppers ahead of sales on Thanksgiving Day.

The retail giant said Thursday that Black Friday deals will start online on walmart.com at 10 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, Nov. 21. In-store Black Friday deals will start at 6 p.m. local time Thursday, Nov. 22, preceded by a two-hour “Light Up Black Friday” sampling party for customers. Shoppers will get treated to complimentary coffee and cookies while they wait for the deals to begin.

For true early-bird shoppers, 18 Black Friday items, including Sharp 55-inch LED TVs and Lenovo Ideapad laptop computers, will go on sale today at walmart.com, while supplies last.

Read: These are the best things to buy on Black Friday

Walmart WMT, +0.96%   is boasting a number of high-tech improvements this holiday shopping season, including new store maps on Walmart’s smartphone app. The maps will convert to a special Black Friday version from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time Thanksgiving Day, directing shoppers to the top eight special deals. Roving employees with handheld scanners will also be placed in high-traffic areas of stores to speed up checkouts.

“There really is no bigger or better day of the year than Black Friday; that’s why we are pulling out all the stops to make it a great night for our customers,” Steve Bratspies, Walmart’s chief merchandising officer, said in a statement.

Also see: The big stores with the biggest bargains on Black Friday

Customers can get a sneak peek at Walmart’s Black Friday deals starting today on its website, on its app and in Walmart’s circular.

Walmart shares are up more than 5% year to date, compared to a nearly 6% gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +2.13%  , of which it is a component.