Emma Howe, left, looks up at her mother, Laurie Howe, as they wait in line at a Kohl's store on Black Friday in Owensboro, Ky. Retailers are announcing earlier hours and bigger promotions to pull Americans into shops this holiday season. (Gary Emord-Netzley/AP)

Retailers are turning up the volume on holiday promotions.

Kohl’s, Target and Toys R Us joined the clamor Monday, announcing they would be opening earlier Thanksgiving Day and offering bigger promotions to pull shoppers in this holiday season.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, was set to announce Tuesday that it would kick off in-store specials at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year.

Kohl’s said it will pay for the purchases of four randomly-
selected customers at each of its stores starting 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, as well as four online shoppers. The Thanksgiving kick-off is a shift from last year, when the retailer had similar offers spread across an entire month.

Target announced that it would open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, an hour earlier than last year, while Toys R Us said it would open at 5 p.m., three hours ahead of last year.

Major retailers have announced earlier opening times and bigger sales in a bid to make the most of a short holiday season and in response to consumer interest, industry analysts say. With six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, it is the shortest season in more than a decade, and could cost retailers as much as $1.5 billion, according to a report by Adobe Systems, which provides digital marketing tools.

“Retailers are trying to create a sense of urgency with customers,” said Richard Jaffe, managing director of Stifel Nicolaus, an investment bank.

Wal-Mart kicked off its holiday discounts online this month.

On Thanksgiving Day, the retail giant said, it will begin online discounts in the morning. It is also offering 21 guaranteed items, compared with last year’s three, to customers standing in line during the first hour of discounts.

“Black Friday is the Super Bowl of retail, and it’s very important to us,” said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart U.S. “We anticipate a very competitive environment.”

Department stores such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney also said they would open on Thanksgiving for the first time. And most retailers — including Target and Toys R Us — are promoting pre-Black Friday deals.

Kohl’s, which faced disappointing holiday sales last year, said that opening on Thanksgiving is an added convenience for its customers.

The free-purchase offer was another way to make “the Black Friday experience exciting,” Kohl’s spokeswoman Julia Fennelly said in an e-mail. After Thanksgiving, the program will continue through the rest of the month, just like last year, she said.

For middle-tier retailers such as Kohl’s, the holiday stakes are higher this year because consumers are cautious, economists say.

“It’s rough going,” said Chris Christopher, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight. “They’re trying everything to make this season as profitable as possible.”

The run-up to the biggest shopping season of the year was marred by the federal government shutdown and sluggish economic growth. Consumer confidence plunged in the aftermath of the shutdown, and consumer spending slowed in the third quarter, according to government data.

Last week’s positive updates on the job market and economic growth rate could help boost confidence, Christopher said, but they won’t be enough. As long as household income remains low, consumers will be on the lookout for a good deal, he said.