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Low-end stores opening earliest on Black Friday
* Competition fiercest for lower price retailers-analysts
* Ross Stores CEO: holiday 'more competitive than usual'
By Phil Wahba
Nov 17 (Reuters) - Thanksgiving Day is for eating turkey, watching football and, apparently, shopping at lower-end retailers.
While much has been made in the media about retailers opening their doors at midnight to grab their share from shoppers' wallets, several retailers that cater to people with the tightest budgets will be open all day.
Sears Holdings is keeping its discount K-Mart stores open on Thanksgiving for the 20th year, waiting until Black Friday, the following day that officially kicks off holiday shopping, to welcome people into its namesake chain.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc is also open on Thanksgiving, as are most of Gap Inc's Old Navy locations.
Executives and analysts alike have said the fight for shopper dollars is more intense this year in a tough job market and uncertain economy. The National Retail Federation expects retail sales to up 2.8 percent this season, below last year's 5.2 percent clip.
Chains that cater to shoppers on the tightest budget stand to lose the most, analysts said.
"They want to make sure they are getting consumer dollars before anyone else," said Kurt Salmon retail strategist Megan Donadio. "Retailers want to do whatever they can to make sure what consumers do spend is spent with them."
Low-price retailer Ross Stores Inc's CEO Michael Balmuth said on Thursday that he was not raising his chain's holiday sales outlook because of the possibility of "more competitive than usual holiday season."
How high the stakes are for low-cost chains is made clear by the varying strategies retailers take for different chains within their portfolios.
Gap will only welcome shoppers at some Gap and Banana Republic stores, and Sears decided this year to revert to its usual 4 a.m. opening on Black Friday after finding limited interest last year in its Thanksgiving hours as shoppers stayed home and shopped online instead.
Still, even middlebrow chains like Macy's Inc , Kohl's Corp and discounter Target Corp have felt the pressure, opening earlier than ever by kicking off their Black Friday sales at the stroke of midnight.
One holdout is J.C. Penney Co Inc , which is sticking to its guns and opening at 4 a.m. on Black Friday. But Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell told Reuters last week that it would have been the "wrong" approach for his chain, considering rivals like Macy's and Target will be open for business.
At the other end of the spectrum, high-end retailers have felt no pressure to change store hours. Most of Macy's Bloomingdale's stores are again opening at 8 a.m. on Black Friday, while Nordstrom Inc and Saks Inc stores are also largely sticking to last year's schedule.
Still, Nordstrom-owned daily deals site Haute Look found high end shoppers started looking for deals and buying earlier this year, its CEO Adam Bernard told Reuters on Thursday.
The competition remains most intense for shoppers of the most modest means. Target on Wednesday said Wal-Mart's layaway program, revived this year after a five-year hiatus, was hurting its toy sales.
"They want to get the best deal, get the most merchandise at the best price, to take advantage of that frenzy. So they are going to get up earlier, stay up late or do whatever it takes," said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture's retail practice.
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