NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is going for the jugular in the holiday retailing war, announcing Thursday that it will offer free shipping on nearly 60,000 online items -- with no minimum purchase requirement.
The nation's biggest retailer, long known for its low prices, is raising the stakes just over two weeks before Black Friday, viewed as the official kickoff of holiday shopping.
Wal-Mart's free shipping offer, which includes most electronics, jewelry and toys, will run through Dec. 20.
Steve Nave, senior vice president and general manager of Walmart.com, said in a statement that the retailer is trying to help its cost-conscious shoppers "save money so they can bring home more for less this holiday season."
While there are some signs that the economy is slowly improving, many consumers are still wary of spending more this holiday season due to high unemployment, tight credit and the depressed housing market. In the past few years holiday shoppers have also started to become conditioned to retailers cutting prices and offering special deals as a way to lure them in and are not afraid to wait in the hopes of scoring key gifts at low prices.
Rivals Target Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. also have free shipping offers, with Target providing free shipping when customers spend more than $50 on select items and J.C. Penney offering free shipping with purchases of $69 or more.
Wal-Mart's free shipping offer comes on top of its existing Site to Store program, which allows customers to buy an item online and have it shipped for free to their local Walmart store for pickup. Wal-Mart expects the limited edition free shipping offer and its Site to Store program will save its customers about $25 million during the holidays.
Items purchased from the company's website will be delivered to customers' homes within three to five business days from the order's processing via standard shipping. Return shipping is also free, or items can be returned to a local Walmart.
The free shipping deal is just the latest move by Wal-Mart to entice customers. Earlier this month the chain said it was discounting certain in-stock flat-panel TVs for a weekend, or as long as supplies lasted.
Wal-Mart, which has more than 8,400 stores in 15 countries, had fiscal 2010 sales of $405 billion. The company based in Bentonville, Ark., has more than 2 million employees globally.
Its shares slipped a penny to $54.50 in pre-market trading.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)