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Wal-Mart holds the line on free shipping

For Wal-Mart, one thing is clear this holiday season: Getting shoppers into its stores is key.

The world's largest retailer on Thursday offered its first peek at what consumers can expect from the discounter this holiday season. Plans include amplifying its in-store presentation, by playing carols and beefing up its decorations, as well as bringing photos with Santa Claus to many of its locations.

Wal-Mart also said that it will maintain its $50 minimum spending threshold for free delivery of online orders, which encourages shoppers who want to avoid shipping fees for less expensive purchases to pick up their items in the stores. That's in contrast to Best Buy, which is offering free shipping to shoppers with no minimum purchase required.

A Black Friday shopper pushes his TV after purchasing it at a Walmart in Fairfax, Virginia.
Paul J. Richards | AFP | Getty Images
A Black Friday shopper pushes his TV after purchasing it at a Walmart in Fairfax, Virginia.

To help streamline the in-store pickup process, Wal-Mart on Thursday is rolling out a new feature on its mobile app that allows customers to check in via smartphone when they arrive to collect their online orders.

The technology, which has been tested at its Sam's Club stores, is expected to speed up the pick-up process for time-crunched shoppers. And on Nov. 1, Wal-Mart will add a new capability to its digital wish lists, which enables shoppers to add items by scanning them in-store and makes them searchable for friends and family.

Last year, shoppers created 1.5 million wish lists on Walmart.com.

In addition to these initiatives, Wal-Mart reiterated its promise to once again be the leader on price this season. That means offering thousands of discounts across categories starting Nov. 1. These deals will extend throughout the holiday season, and the retail giant will continue to match competitors' prices.

"We want to have the best prices all season long," said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandise officer at Walmart U.S. "If we need to react, we will react."

The timing of Wal-Mart's deals falls in line with last season. But consumers will have to wait a few weeks to receive details on Wal-Mart's Black Friday doorbusters and hours.

Earlier Thursday, Macy's said that it would once again open its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, consistent with last year.

The moves come as a handful of retailers, including GameStop, Lowe's, TJX and Staples, have already said they will be closed for the holiday.

Outdoor brand REI has even gone as far as to say it will stay closed on Black Friday, instead encouraging consumers to spend the major shopping event outside.

But industry experts had predicted that the retailers catering to discount-driven shoppers — including Macy's, Target and Wal-Mart — would once again start their holiday promotions on Thanksgiving, in a bid to get consumers in their doors first.

Wal-Mart also said Thursday that it expects nearly three-quarters of its online traffic to come from mobile devices this season, up from about 70 percent last year. It also anticipates more than 210 million visits to its app during the November to December period, up from 18 million two years ago.

CORRECTION: Macy's made an announcement Thursday about its Thanksgiving Day plans. The date of the announcement was misstated in an earlier version of this article.