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Wal-Mart to start Black Friday sales two hours early

Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images

Holiday shoppers leave the Wal-Mart store in Fairfax, Virginia, in this file photo. Wal-Mart says it will begin its Black Friday sales at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is about more than just food and family.  It’s also the time when consumers can get a leg up on holiday shopping by braving stampedes at big box retailers, many of which offer hefty Black Friday discounts at midnight.

This year, however, retail giant Wal-Mart is upping the ante on Black Friday by kicking off some of its sales at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, rather than at midnight. While the chain will remain open on Thanksgiving Day and will save its big electronics sale for midnight, Walmart announced on Thursday that it will begin offering in-store specials on toys, clothing and household items at 10 p.m. on November 24. 

For example, it will offer the 4GB Xbox360 with Kinect Console for $199.96, which regularly runs for $299, and will also throw in a $50 Wal-Mart gift card with the purchase. Men’s jeans by Wrangler and ladies’ jeans by Rider, normally priced anywhere from $20 to $40, will go for $9.97 each.

“Our customers told us they would rather stay up late to shop than get up early, so we’re going to hold special events on Thanksgiving and Black Friday,” said Wal-Mart’s chief merchandising officer Duncan Mac Naughton in a statement.

Wal-Mart ran into some trouble on Black Friday in 2008 when a store employee died after a crowd of shoppers who had gathered for the store’s early morning opening forcibly pushed open the store’s glass doors and caused a stampede.

So the retailer says it’s taking crowd control seriously in anticipation of this year’s sales event. Customers will be given maps upon entry that detail the locations of sale items, and they can also download maps in advance from Facebook or Wal-Mart’s website. Customers will then have to wait in line for the products they want to buy. Wal-Mart spokesperson Sarah Spencer said in an email that the chain had consulted with safety experts to develop store-specific safety plans, and will keep many stores open for 24 hours as an added safety measure. 

Thus far, other retailers haven’t responded in kind to Wal-Mart’s early opening on Black Friday; for example, a Best Buy spokesperson wrote in an email that the store’s sale would still take place at midnight as planned.