The chain, based in Plano, Texas, will open most of its 1,100 stores at 8 p.m. on the holiday, the same as rival Macy's, and will be open 25 hours straight, closing at 9 p.m. the following day.
The Thanksgiving evening opening is much earlier than last year, when Penney didn't open until 6 a.m. Friday. That made the retailer one of the laggards for the unofficial kickoff to the season.
Penney is also bringing back a tradition it ditched last year: It will give away nearly 2 million holiday snow globes starting at 4 a.m. on the Friday after the turkey feast.
"Obviously, we were one of the last to open (last year)," said Tony Bartlett, Penney's executive vice president of stores. But he noted this year, "We're all in."
He promised that Penney's deals will be at least as good as two years ago and will be much better than last year, when Penney gave away buttons tied to a prize giveaway.
Penney is also hiring at least 35,000 seasonal workers for the holidays, nearly 50 percent more than a year ago.
The holiday plan is yet another example of how Penney is unraveling the strategies of its former CEO Ron Johnson, who was ousted in April after 17 months on the job amid a botched up plan to reinvent the retailer. Johnson was fired two months after the company announced horrific fourth-quarter results that covered the holiday shopping season. That ended a fiscal year, which finished Feb. 2, in which the Penney amassed almost a billion dollars in losses and a 25 percent drop in sales.
Penney brought back Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman, as CEO. He is restoring frequent sales and basic merchandise that were eliminated by Johnson who was aiming to attract a more affluent, younger shopper.
Shares of J.C. Penney were down nearly 3 percent, or 21 cents, to $7.14 Friday. They have lost 83 percent of their value since early February 2012.
Stores are ushering the holiday season earlier every year, creeping into Thanksgiving. Macy's scheduled 8 p.m. opening on Thanksgiving compares with its midnight Friday opening in 2012.
Last year, Target Corp. opened its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, three hours earlier than the previous year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, began the early-bird specials at 8 p.m. on the holiday, two hours earlier than in 2011. A growing number of mall-based clothing stores like Gap also have opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day.
Target, Wal-Mart and Gap have not yet announced their plans for the Thanksgiving weekend.
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