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Wal-Mart makes room for thin TVs

The retailing giant is in the midst of expanding its selection of LCD TVs, plasma TVs and other types of digital sets.

Wal-Mart Stores will increase floor space dedicated to flat-panel TVs due to strong sales, another indication that this trend in televisions has momentum.

The retailing giant, which already is one of the largest outlets for consumer electronics worldwide, is in the midst of expanding its selection of liquid-crystal display TVs, plasma TVs and other types of digital sets, a representative said last week.

"Wal-Mart has seen growth in our consumer electronics items as this has become a destination category for our customers this past year,? the representative said.

Flat, and often large, TVs have been on the market for a couple of years, but shipments have grown substantially of late. Although typically more expensive than traditional cathode ray tube TVs, flat-screen TVs have dropped considerably in price over the past two years and prices will likely continue to plummet, according to most analysts.

Simultaneously, the number of manufacturers in the market has exploded. Gateway went from zero presence in TVs to become one of the largest plasma TV sellers in the United States through sharp discounts. Dell, Westinghouse, Viewsonic, Hewlett-Packard and others have entered the market, or at least announced plans to do so.

Wal-Mart's increased interest in digital TVs could benefit a number of these manufacturers--the company says it maintains more than 3,200 facilities in the United States and 1,000 others around the world. More than 100 million customers traipse through a Wal-Mart somewhere in the world every week.

Right now, the retailer mostly carries TVs from second-tier manufacturers like Tatung, Sampo and Sceptre, according to the company?s Web site. By contrast, it carries PCs from HP and eMachines, which Gateway purchased last week.

The Wal-Mart representative denied that the company has plans to dedicate more floor space to all consumer electronics and PCs. But Jennifer Gerlach, an analyst with ARS, said that Wal-Mart is experimenting with ways to expand that part of its business.

The consumer electronics department in a store in the Minnesota area has already been expanded, she said, and plans are under way to do the same in some Texas stores.