Wal-Mart May Sell IPad This Year in Electronics Push

The Apple Inc. iPad
The Apple Inc. iPad to be sold in Wal-Mart stores. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. may start selling Apple Inc.’s iPad in 2010 in some U.S. stores as it competes with electronics chains for consumers who want to connect their e-mail, movies, games and music.

“We anticipate being able to have the iPad later this year,” Gary Severson, senior vice president of entertainment for Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores, said in a telephone interview. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company isn’t prepared to provide specifics on the timing and pricing of the iPad, he said.

Apple has sold more than 1 million iPads since they went on sale in the U.S. last month, making the debut more successful than the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Apple sells the device, a tablet computer that lets users read digital books and access the Internet, online and in its stores. Best Buy Co. also sells it.

Apple hasn’t made any announcements regarding retail partners since the iPad was introduced, said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for the Cupertino, California-based company.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said today that it is adding more Internet-connected flat-panel televisions, Blu-ray disc players, mobile phones and routers enabling U.S. consumers to link gadgets in their homes. A similar push by Best Buy, the world’s largest consumer-electronics retailer, and RadioShack Corp. boosted their earnings last quarter.

Offering more products from manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Corp. tells consumers they “don’t have to go to a specialty shop” where they have to pay more for services, said Severson, 49.

“We are working really hard to make the experience in our store more interactive,” Severson said. “It allows a customer to understand, ‘Hey, this isn’t as complicated as I thought.’”

‘Self-Educated’ Consumers

Wal-Mart is aiming for consumers who arrive at its stores “self-educated” about electronics, he said. Employees are being trained on new products and how they can be connected.

As an example, Wal-Mart anticipates rising demand from shoppers who come to buy a flat-panel TV and then may decide to purchase a Blu-ray disc player and a router that would connect to a computer, gaming devices and the TV. At home, consumers want to be able to download movies from services such as Netflix Inc., based in Los Gatos, California, and Vudu Inc., which Wal-Mart acquired in March.

Books, Music, Internet

“Retailers have always been good at selling a single device,” Stephen Baker, an analyst with Port Washington, New York-based research firm NPD Group Inc., said yesterday. “But the ability to connect music, movies, games and e-mail is the long-term opportunity for them,” he said. “The entire industry is moving in that direction.”

Thirteen percent of Wal-Mart’s U.S. store revenue came from entertainment in the year that ended Jan. 31, trailing only groceries, which accounted for 51 percent of sales, according to an annual securities filing.

The iPad, which lets users surf the Web, watch videos, play games and read electronic books, represents a new category of device that falls somewhere between smartphones and notebook computers. Apple offers Wi-Fi models with 16, 32 and 64 gigabytes of memory. Prices start at $499.

Wal-Mart dropped 8 cents to $52.40 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Apple sank $3.73 to $258.36 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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