UPDATE 1-Stores open early on Thanksgiving but shoppers in no rush

Thu Nov 28, 2013 4:56pm EST
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By Dhanya Skariachan and Lisa Baertlein

Nov 28 (Reuters) - Some early U.S. shoppers headed to stores on Thanksgiving Day in search of discounted holiday gifts on a day long reserved for American families to bond over turkey and football.

Kmart, Old Navy and Lord & Taylor were some of the stores that opened their doors on Thursday morning, as each company did last year. Macy's Inc and a slew of other stores are opening later on Thanksgiving for the first time ever in a bare-knuckle brawl for a bigger slice of holiday sales.

With six fewer shopping days this year than in 2012, retailers who reap nearly half of annual profits during the winter holiday season are nibbling away at the Thanksgiving holiday. But early visits to the stores by Reuters showed sparse crowds - a sign that not all U.S. shoppers are keen to open their wallets so quickly.

A Walmart store in Woodbridge, New Jersey, was virtually empty at 2:30 p.m., with store associates outnumbering shoppers.

The National Retail Federation expects up to 140 million shoppers to hit U.S. stores over the Thanksgiving weekend, slightly more than the 139 million who turned out last year.

But many forecasters expect overall sales growth to be tepid in a season plagued by shaky consumer confidence and given that there are few fashion must-haves.

Many consumers were also shopping online on Thursday. A report by IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark at 3 p.m. Eastern Time showed overall Thanksgiving online sales up 9.4 percent in 2013 over the same period last year.   Continued...