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story.lead_photo.caption Shoppers are wrap around the building as JC Penney and Sephora at Broadway Square Mall in Tyler, Texas open their doors on Thanksgiving Day Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP)

NEW YORK -- Even as retailers are counting on a lift from a better economy, they're looking beyond economic data and mapping out ways to pick up sales from other retailers as Amazon expands its reach.

That can mean opening earlier than rivals on the holidays or even jumping into new product categories. The fight for market share comes as analysts at Bain say Amazon is expected to take half of the holiday season's sales growth. And Amazon is the top destination for people to begin holiday shopping, according to a September study by market research firm NPD Group.

"The retailers are in survival mode. It's about stealing each other's market share," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. "Amazon is the Grinch. They're stealing the growth."

Abi and Sush Gyawali -- both 27-year-old biology graduate students at the University of Missouri -- were among hundreds of people who lined up outside J.C. Penney in Columbia, Mo., before the store opened at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Abi Gyawali normally shops online on Amazon or Best Buy for Cyber Monday, where he said he finds some of the best deals. But he said the couple wanted to check out the scene at the mall Thursday before friends arrived later to share a meal.

"It's good," he said. "At least people are not as crazy as they behave in big cities."

With the jobless rate at a 17-year-low of 4.1 percent and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases for November and December. The National Retail Federation trade group expects sales for that period to at least match last year's rise of 3.6 percent and estimates online spending and other nonstore sales will rise 11 percent to 15 percent.

Amazon is expected to be a big beneficiary as it cements loyalty among its Prime members and moves into new services and private-label merchandise. The company has introduced more than 20 such brands in the past two years in clothing, electronics, groceries and more, Bain said.

That leaves stores looking at rivals to see where they can pick up sales. There are extra dollars up for grabs this year, after thousands of store locations have closed and several retailers including Gymboree and Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy protection.

Greg Foran, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart's U.S. division, said the retail giant's holiday shopping season appeared to be off to a good start. It got things going in the first minutes of Thursday with an online sales event that featured a range of deals from toys to TVs to slow cookers and Google Home mini gadgets.

"We are in good shape," Foran said. "We have a bit of momentum and we had a good kickoff online, and with a bit of luck we are going to have a good 24 hours and be shipshape for the weekend, and go from here to the 25th of December."

Target CEO Brian Cornell recently noted that up to $60 billion in consumer spending will be up for the taking in the next few years, and said the chain has been picking up market share in such areas as clothing.

The Thanksgiving weekend, when stores go all-out to attract shoppers, can be an indication of how well they'll do through the season. About 69 percent of Americans, or 164 million people, intend to shop at some point during the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to a survey released by the National Retail Federation. It expects Black Friday to remain the busiest day, with about 115 million people planning to shop then.

Some retailers are using the weekend to test new product areas before committing to them year-round: Penney has TVs and consumer electronics like game consoles as doorbusters for Thanksgiving and Black Friday only. Penney also has added year-round toy shops and increased its selection of work pants as an apparent move to grab market share from Sears, after last year going back to selling major appliances.

Both Wal-Mart and Target have been expanding their exclusive toys offerings. Wal-Mart is throwing parties in its stores including ones where kids can play with new toys. Best Buy created its first toy booklet for the holidays.

Stores like Macy's, Target and Kohl's opened Thursday evening to woo early shoppers. Wal-Mart started deals in its stores at 6 p.m. J.C. Penney opened its doors at 2 p.m., an hour earlier than last year and at least three hours ahead of its department store rivals.

Mary Bergeron, 62, of Tampa, bought an oil-less fryer, a waffle maker and a steamer at J.C. Penney, and was headed back for more.

Information for this article was contributed by Tamara Lush and Summer Ballentine of The Associated Press.

A Section on 11/24/2017

Print Headline: Retail rivals duke it out for holiday sales

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