What’s behind Kohl’s 170-hour holiday shopping marathon?

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WASHINGTON — Kohl’s on Tuesday announced a bid to win the holiday shopping dollars of procrastinators and night owls: The department store plans to stay open for 170 straight hours, starting Thursday at 7 a.m. and wrapping up at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

This is not the first year Kohl’s has stayed open around-the-clock in the run-up to the holidays, but the chain is getting an even earlier jump this year on the offering, which starts on Dec. 17 after launching on Dec. 19 last year.

Kohl’s says the move is aimed at adding convenience for time-starved shoppers. And the company said it has stuck with this strategy because it has received positive feedback from customers.

But the marathon hours also likely reflect the intensity of the fight for shoppers’ dollars this holiday season, especially for a chain that saw only a modest sales increase in the previous quarter as unseasonably warm weather weighed on sales across the industry for items such as coats and boots.

It can’t be cheap for Kohl’s to execute these marathon hours, given the extra labor required to keep thousands of stores open overnight. But the retailer seems to be making the calculation that the trade-off is worthwhile if it brings more sales.

Gregg Welter, the district manager for Kohl’s stores in the Washington, D.C., region, said his stores were busier in the wee hours of the morning last year than he expected they’d be.

The strategy seems a bit counterintuitive at a moment when many retailers are increasingly counting on their websites to cater to customers who want to shop at odd hours. For example, stores such as Best Buy, Sears and Dick’s Sporting Goods kicked off their in-store Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, but closed for several hours overnight before picking up the action again early Friday morning. That move meant they didn’t have to staff their stores during hours when foot traffic is sure to be lighter. And even outside the holiday shopping rush, Walmart moved earlier this year to shutter dozens of its 24-hour stores for several hours each night. The big-box chain reasoned the time could be better spent organizing and restocking shelves for customers who come during busier hours.

But Kohl’s gambit could highlight the instant-gratification potential of brick-and-mortar stores, something that becomes especially important in the home stretch of the holiday season. It is the time of year when shoppers begin to get anxious about whether they have enough gifts and whether the goods they ordered online will arrive in time. Some may even be less willing to shop online as retailers begin to charge more to rush an order to your doorstep.

The 170-hour shopping bonanza is just one of many tactics Kohl’s is using this holiday season to lure convenience-oriented shoppers. The retailer has also trumpeted its “buy online, pick up in store” program and its revamped mobile site, which it says should make it easier to browse and buy online.