- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

NEW YORK | A move by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to offer more and lower-priced laptops could give it an edge over key rival Best Buy Co. in the struggle for back-to-school electronics business.

The world’s largest retailer announced Thursday it was increasing its assortment of affordable laptop computers - some in limited supply - with the aim of becoming a computer destination for college and high school students.

A key offering to be available starting Sunday is a $298 notebook from Hewlett-Packard Co. with 3 gigabytes of memory and a 160-gigabyte hard drive. The price tag is more typical of the smaller and less powerful laptops known as notebooks.

Spokesman Justin Barber for Minneapolis-based Best Buy noted that Best Buy carries more than 45 PCs and Apple computer models, and its notebook prices start at $330 and netbooks at $250.

Winning over customers involves more than price, he said.

“We know it’s equally important for consumers to feel confident they’re getting the right product,” Mr. Barber said.

Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group Inc. market research firm, called the $298 price for the HP notebook aggressive but said it was not groundbreaking; he has seen small computers with similar power from major brands at that price elsewhere.

Wal-Mart worked with Dell Inc., Acer Inc. and Toshiba Corp. as well as HP to deliver new products that are high quality and affordable, said Gary Severson, senior vice president of entertainment for the Bentonville, Ark., retail giant.

Also coming to Wal-Mart this weekend are a $548 Acer-made Vista laptop with an eight-hour battery, 3 gigabytes of memory and a 320-gigabyte hard drive.

Wal-Mart wants to “make a big splash” in the PC market now that Circuit City Stores Inc. is out of business, said Loren Loverde, director of tracker research at IDC, a technology research firm.

U.S. PC sales have declined over the past three quarters, according to IDC, but notebooks have been a bright spot as shoppers focus on price.

Wal-Mart, looking past the benefits it has seen in the recession, is searching for opportunities like consumer electronics that will sustain its growth as the economy recovers. As part of its efforts to stake a bigger claim in the PC business, it renovated its computer displays at 1,200 of its 3,600 U.S. stores.

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