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At Wal-Mart, Black Friday comes early

Retailer will again offer Black Friday-esque prices--in its stores only--three weeks before the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

It's happening again.

If you thought one minute past midnight the day after Thanksgiving was too early to choke out your fellow shoppers in the name of a great deal, you were wrong.

An Acer laptop will be one of the featured items offered at Black Friday-like prices Friday, November 2, in its stores. Wal-Mart

Following last year's decision to offer a $398 laptop several weeks ahead of the traditional Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Wal-Mart is planning on slashing prices on five items--in its stores, not online--beginning at 8 a.m. this Friday. One of them will be a $348 Acer laptop with 1GB of RAM. The other four items and their prices will be kept secret until Friday morning when the sale officially begins. At that time, the prices will be available on the Wal-Mart Web site. The retailer will still hold a traditional Black Friday sale.

The secretive nature of revealing the pricing online at the very last second is likely an attempt to avoid what has become ritual among retailers and Black Friday fans. More and more, Black Friday Web sites have made it their business to reveal retailers' circular ads before they are officially published.

It's caused some retailers, like Wal-Mart, to threaten legal action. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart sent notices to 10 Web sites that the retailer says it will sue if the ads are published before November 19, the official release date.

But will the strategy of starting the holidays earlier and earlier bring more change to Wal-Mart's coffers? In past years, the evidence of success has been "mixed," according to consumer retail analysts. In general the lower-priced items do well, but products with higher price tags, generally over $500, are still a tougher sell.