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Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) wants to help you navigate its stores during the hectic holiday shopping season, and the company is betting that an upgraded mobile app will do the trick. The megaretailer also aims to block out competition from rivals like Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) in the process.
Wal-Mart just announced its Black Friday specials. And the splashy new addition to this year's festivities is the company's mobile app, which plays a central role in the promotions. Thanks to an app upgrade and the recent GPS geofencing of all Wal-Mart stores, shoppers will have some new functionality available to them this year.
Instead of leafing through printed store maps to find deals, customers using the app will be able to browse an interactive map of the store, select an item, and see its exact location. Shoppers have the option to order the item directly from Wal-Mart's website, if they'd prefer not to lug it home themselves. The app will also be delivering sales notifications to customers from Black Friday on through its online shopping equivalent, Cyber Monday.
The company has a few good reasons to go this route. For one, mobile commerce promises to be a popular shopping method this year. Wal-Mart estimates that 40% of its holiday Web traffic will come from mobile devices, up big since even last year. And 12% of the company's mobile commerce sales actually occur while customers are in the stores. So any "showrooming" traffic that Wal-Mart can drive to its own website, instead of to Amazon's, is a win for the retailer.
Also, Wal-Mart is on the hunt for anything that can differentiate itself from competitors this holiday season. Target (NYSE: TGT ) escalated the turkey-day battle again, announcing that it will open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving after starting at midnight last year. And both Target and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) are matching some prices with online shops, in their own bids to counter showrooming and to attract shoppers this holiday season.
But, unlike these temporary deals, Wal-Mart's mobile strategy looks well-thought-out, and promises to enhance the in-store shopping experience without confusing customers. And the company should benefit from a stronger connection between its online and offline presence, even after the holidays are over.