Wal-Mart to sell iPhone starting Sunday

Wal-Mart confirmed Friday what everyone who follows Apple already knew: that it will begin selling Apple’s iPhone 3G at nearly 2,500 Wal-Mart stores starting Sunday Dec. 28 — three days after Christmas.

Wal-Mart will sell the red-hot mobile device for $197 for the 8GB model and $297 for the 16GB model, or $2 off their current prices. There had been rumors that Wal-Mart would sell a $99 iPhone. (See Anatomy of a rumor: Wal-Mart’s $99 iPhone.)

Wal-Mart, however, appears to be giving individual store managers some wiggle room on prices. According to the press release, the company’s price match policy will allow stores to “match the price of any local competitor’s advertised store price on the same item within the same promotional period.” Best Buy is offering the iPhone for $190 for the 8GB and $290 for the 16GB models.

Getting the iPhone into Wal-Mart (WMT) is something of a coup for Apple (AAPL). Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retail chain — by far — with more than 7,000 mega-stores around the world and some 2.1 million employees. It finished its last fiscal year with nearly $380 billion in sales — earning it the No. 1 slot in the Fortune 500.

The move represents the fourth major expansion of the iPhone’s retail presence outside Apple’s own 200-plus stores. The phone was sold first at AT&T’s (T) 2,000 retail outlets, then at nearly 1,000 Best Buy (BBY) outlets (see here), and then at the tens of thousands of points of sale (many of them no more than mom-and-pop kiosks) that carry iPhones for Apple’s overseas partners.

Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster has estimated that Apple could easily sell as many iPhones through Wal-Mart stores in 2009 as it sells through its own Apple Stores — by his calculation, about 4.5 million units. See here.

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