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Wal-Mart offers exclusive trendy music performances

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched an online music video and audio service with exclusive studio performances Wednesday, part of a broader strategy to make itself trendier and to encourage sales in addition to those of cheap staples like groceries.

Dubbed ``Wal-Mart Soundcheck,'' the service features studio performances and interviews with new as well as established bands and musicians, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said in a news release. First up were punk pop fivesome Yellowcard and rock band Switchfoot.

The segments, each with four to six songs, will play for free on www.walmart.com and on the wall of television screens in Wal-Mart stores' electronics departments. There will be a viewing event in stores of the complete 30- to 40-minute performance every few weeks on Friday nights and fans can also download audio tracks from the performances for a fee from the Web site.

The artist selection will cover genres including rock, pop, punk, country, hip-hop and R&B. New acts will follow monthly, including country singer Miranda Lambert and R&B star Ne-Yo.

``It's a brilliant branding strategy,'' said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a New York retailing consultant.

Flickinger said the move could help establish Wal-Mart among young consumers who might now gravitate to Target Corp. and encourage their parents to spend more time in Wal-Mart aisles while the teens are checking out the music events.

``It's a superb strategic move for Wal-Mart to be able to get students and young people to congregate in the stores for 30 to 40 minute concerts on Friday nights and do everything from buying on-premise food and beverage items to shopping the consumer electronics department, apparel, and sporting goods,'' Flickinger said.

Wal-Mart launched a new marketing drive last year as its sales growth fell behind smaller rivals like Target Corp., aiming to make more departments of its stores attractive to consumers.

Wal-Mart already has a huge customer base, with more than 80 percent of U.S. households shopping there at least occasionally. But many of those consumers come mainly for groceries and staples, and Wal-Mart wants them to also shop ``across the aisle'' in departments such as clothing, furnishings and electronics.

Hallmarks of the new strategy have included higher thread-count sheets, a new line of urban-style women's fashion called Metro 7 and more high-end electronics such as high definition and plasma screen television sets.
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