By Melissa Fares
(Reuters) - Walmart Inc said it would start offering holiday deals for customers as early as Thursday, as it prepares to compete with Amazon Inc, Target Corp and other rivals for shoppers on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
The company will offer Black Friday deals at 10 p.m. EST online on Thanksgiving eve - two hours earlier than in previous years - in order to give shoppers on the East Coast more shopping time earlier, executives said, and at 6 p.m. local time in its stores on Thanksgiving Day.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer will also have deals available on Walmart.com beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, Nov. 8, the company said.
Similar to in years past, key departments, like toys, electronics, home and apparel, will be color-coded in store so shoppers can easily find deals. The codes will be available on the retailer’s Black Friday circular and store maps.
"Check Out With Me" associates – identifiable with a bright yellow sash – will also be placed in key areas of the store in an effort to make the shopping experience smoother.
For years, Black Friday has marked the start of the holiday shopping season in the United States with retailers offering steep discounts. But its popularity has been on the wane with the rise of online shopping and inexpensive deals throughout the year.
On Monday, Amazon said it would offer free shipping with no purchase minimum for the first time this holiday season, heating up the competition with Walmart Inc and Target, which in recent years have chipped away at Amazon's lead with their own offers of free two-day shipping. While Walmart has maintained its $35 order threshold this holiday, Target has scrapped its minimum until Dec. 22.
(Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)