Retailers try to step up their game heading into holidays

NEW YORK — Stores are trying to step up their game online and in person for the critical holiday season, from dangling more discounts to livening up their stores. And Amazon, which is expanding into more areas, has opened its online store of Black Friday discounts.

Department store chain Kohl's is hoping to woo new customers by emphasizing the exact amount people can save by stacking coupons and other deals. It's also opening at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year. "Retail is changing. And there is market share to gain," said CEO-elect Michelle Gass.

The chain, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin is also delivering more of its incentive Kohl's Cash than before. The app also features the option to scan ads, store Kohl's Cash offers and saving offers.

Ailing Sears Holdings Corp., which has struggled to keep up with rivals, says its Sears and Kmart stores launched a "Holiday Blowout" promotion Wednesday that will last through Nov. 25. Sears is also bringing back its Wish Book, last issued in 2011, which features items like toys, games and tools.

Online leader Amazon promised Wednesday that shoppers will find better deals than ever before on hot toys, electronics, home goods and other items as it announced the discounts. Starting Wednesday, Prime members will also have access to Amazon Key, a service that will allow delivery people to leave packages in your home without you having to be there.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, will have parties for customers at its stores for the first time, around the themes of toys, entertainment and curated gifts. It's increasing the number of product demonstrations and will expand the role of employees who last year helped find customers the shortest register lines. This year, they'll assist customers in the toys and electronics areas every weekend and be at the online orders pickup stations as Christmas approaches.

The company, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, says it has tripled the number of products online from last year's holiday season and is offering more exclusive merchandise.

Rival Target is also being more aggressive about pulling in shoppers. It now has dedicated staff in areas like clothing, beauty and consumer electronics to better service shoppers. And it will offer eight new store brands this holiday season.

While retailers like Target and Best Buy are waiving their minimum for free shipping again, Walmart is sticking to its $35 threshold for free two-day free shipping on 2 million products. Kohl's is sticking with its $50 minimum threshold for free shipping. Its best customers who spend $600 a year can have items shipped for free during Kohl's credit events.

Many retailers, including Walmart and Target, haven't announced specific plans for the Black Friday weekend. Kohl's says it based its decision to open early on customer shopping patterns.

"We looked at what the competitive environment was," said Gass, "and we really wanted Kohl's to be the first stop."