By Sruthi Ramakrishnan
(Reuters) - Macy's Inc <M.N> said on Friday it had a strong start to the holiday shopping season and would hire an additional 7,000 temporary workers for its stores to deal with heavy customer numbers in the run up to Christmas.
Analysts have called this holiday season a make or break for Macy's, which has shut stores and tightened inventory, as it battles back after several quarters of falling sales caused by competition from new online rivals.
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The department store operator had said in September it would hire 80,000 temporary workers for the holidays - down from last year's 83,000 - of whom 18,000 would work in distribution centers to fulfill online orders.
The move to hire more staff also follows problems at stores with credit card processing at the start of a Thanksgiving weekend, which saw some 174 million Americans - more than earlier expected - visit stores or shop online.
Macy's spokeswoman Blair Rosenberg said the slow down in processing of some credit cards had been caused by capacity-related issues and the additional hiring was not related to that problem.
"Macy's has had a great start to this holiday season with high customer volume across our business," John Harper, Macy's chief stores officer, said in a statement.
"We are adding associates in our stores across the country to ensure that customers continue to receive the high level of service they have come to expect from us."
Rosenberg added that the additional hires would serve customers on the selling floor and work in other store operations, including facilitating pick up of items ordered online.
Macy's has worked to lower its inventory to match a drop in store visits and Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said on Black Friday the retailer was better off this year than last.
Full numbers for the Thanksgiving weekend at brick-and-mortar retailers are expected later this month but industry researchers have said online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving hit record highs.
Retail sales for the first three weeks of November were also up 4 percent across key general merchandise categories tracked by industry research firm NPD. Top performing categories included women's apparel, toys and athletic footwear.
Target Corp <TGT.N> has said it would hire 100,000 workers for the holiday season, up 43 percent from last year, while J C Penney <JCP.N> kept hiring flat with 40,000 workers.
Macy's shares rose about 2 percent in morning trading, having risen a little more than 15 percent since Thanksgiving, cutting its losses for the year to 33.5 percent.
JC Penney shares rose 3 percent.
(Additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; editing by Savio D'Souza and Patrick Graham)