BY: JACQUELINE LAUREAN YATES, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — Walmart is gearing up for the busy holiday shopping season with a new experience.

Shopping will look different for many stores amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the retail giant announced Wednesday how it will change based on evolving customer needs.

Three key areas of Walmart’s updated experience include earlier holiday shopping deals, increased online sales, thousands of new staff hires and in-store safety guidelines.

As shopping interests have shifted toward “new normal” essentials, such as athleisure, sleepwear, exercise equipment and outdoor needs, Walmart is also making sure to increase inventory on these unexpected gifts.

There will also be more pet supplies, toys and items for home, including over 1,300 new toys introduced, more than 3 million pet beds and an increased availability on kitchen appliances.

With Walmart anticipating people getting started on Black Friday shopping earlier this year, the retailer will start rolling out seasonal sales earlier. An exact date hasn’t been announced, but the company has advised that more details will be shared soon.

“We’ve heard from our customers that many plan on starting their holiday shopping well before Black Friday and that they’re looking for gifts that fit their current lifestyle,” said Walmart U.S. Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer Scott McCall in a statement.

“So, we’ve adjusted our strategy to adapt to these new shopping preferences — we’re offering more of what they want now, earlier than ever, and all at the best prices,” he continued.

Like many other retailers, Walmart has taken steps to ensure customer safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

There are reduced store hours, required face coverings, sneeze guard plastic barriers at pharmacies and checkout counters, traffic management and social distancing floor decals.

Additionally, shoppers can opt for contactless pickup or delivery services or contactless payments in store with Walmart Pay or Walmart app.

With the uptick in online sales post-pandemic, Walmart is planning to hire more than 20,000 seasonal employees to fulfill increased demand for the holidays.

Hires will be immediate with shifts scheduled as soon as 48 hours after applying and will continue through Jan. 1, 2021. There also will be opportunities to convert to full-time employment.

“The holidays are always a special time, and this year, we think the season will mean even more to our customers,” said Walmart U.S. Executive Vice President Greg Smith in a statement. “As more of them turn to online shopping, we want to ensure we’re staffed and ready to help deliver that special gift to their loved ones while continuing to fulfill our customer’s everyday needs.”

He continued, “We’re also proud to be able to continue to provide employment opportunities across the country when it’s needed most.”

The news of Walmart’s holiday plans comes shortly after the megastore announced Walmart+, which is a membership program that offers customers unlimited free delivery from stores on more than 160,000 products along with a host of other in-store benefits.

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