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Wal-Mart to test tech support services

Expanding its reach into an arena long dominated by computer and electronics stores, the retail giant is moving to test computer support centers in ten of its stores.

Expanding its reach into an arena long dominated by computer and electronics stores, Wal-Mart is moving to test computer support centers in ten of its stores.

Wal-Mart said it will team with privately held Computer Doctor Franchise Systems to repair computers and to help customers install software.

The first Wal-Mart Computer Doctor opened last week in Ankeny, Iowa, just outside Des Moines. Wal-Mart's other nine test centers are slated to open next year. However, the test centers will not be operated exclusively by Computer Doctor, according to Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa Brown. Brown declined to comment on who else would provide support services and where the additional test centers would be launched.

Although Wal-Mart sells computers and peripherals in nearly half its 3,000 stores in the United States, it lags well behind the entrenched leaders in the field that provide both sales and services, including Tandy's Radio Shack and CompUSA. The move may help Wal-Mart delve further into the computer retail business by drawing technophobe customers comforted by the services offered at the Computer Doctor centers in Wal-Mart.

The test services will operate from leased kiosk space in the front of the store. Computer Doctor will be authorized to sell only used computers at its kiosks while Wal-Mart will sell new systems inside its stores, said Brown.

Although the company said it is not integrating Computer Doctor centers into its Web site, most industry experts expect strong moves online. Wal-Mart has redoubled its Web efforts of late, under the threat of Amazon.com's rapid expansion online from bookseller to Net retail giant selling everything from toys to consumer electronics. The company plans to launch a shopping site sometime before the holiday season.

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