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Millennials: The Socially Conscious Back-to-School Shoppers


By Stephanie Crets

Cause marketing campaigns have become a trend this back-to-school shopping season. A study by The Case Foundation found that millennials develop social consciousness earlier in life than former generations and have a strong desire to help others, offer funds to charities and generally want to give back to their communities. Thus, retailers are taking advantage of this during the back-to-school shopping season to inspire millennial shoppers to give back with their cause marketing and loyalty programs. For example, Target partnered with the Kids in Need Foundation, Macy’s has Fashion Pass, which allows customers to get 15 to 20 percent off a purchase for donating to various charities and TOMS offered a “Give Back When You Go Back” promise to its shoppers that it will help one person in need for every product purchased.

RM spoke to Brandon Rael and Andrew Billings, two retail consultants of the North Highland Company, about this topic and the two offered a lot of great insights.

Why is back-to-school (B2S) one of the best times to target millennials for these loyalty programs, since some of them may not be doing any B2S shopping?

Loyalty programs are traditionally powerful tools to establish a long-term customer relationship, and millennials represent the most critical customer segment for many fashion retailers. While millennials may not be “back-to-school” shopping July through September, many utilize this same time period to stock up on the latest fall fashions and exhaust a significant portion of their annual personal shopping spend.

Like other customer segments, millennials are looking to take advantage of the B2S promotions through large purchases, and retailers know large transactions often increase the likelihood of customers joining loyalty programs. But regardless of the shopping season, anytime is a good time to encourage new members to join a loyalty program.

Do you think retailers target millennials during the holiday shopping season as well? Giving back is definitely a theme during the holidays.

Yes! Retailers understand that millennials connect with brands that align with their interests, and during the holidays, giving and community are on the mind of most millennials.

As millennials express that social purpose is among the key factors that influence purchase decisions, leading retailers are connecting consumers to their social/community platforms across the brick and mortar and digital channels. Millennials desire to be a part of the movement, and providing one that they can own and be passionate about is the sweet spot for retailers.

Have these cause marketing campaigns been beneficial to the retailers so far, or is that data not available yet?

The next generation of spenders, the millennials, spend money differently than previous generations, and marketers need to adjust their strategies.

How are retailers using these campaigns to target millennials?

What worked five years ago, doesn’t work now with millennials, in terms of marketing, selling and advertising. Many are seeking personalized, targeted promotions and discounts as the price for their loyalty. To reach Millennials on the various social media channels, retailers and their brand must become a routine part of their conversations concerning product information, updates and special offers.

Can retailers tie loyalty programs and social responsibility campaigns together?

Absolutely.  Today’s millennial consumer is demanding an increased social responsibility from the retailers and brands. Combining social responsibility with a retail loyalty program is more appealing to millennials as they show a preference towards nonmonetary benefits, compared to prior generations. This trend has lead customers to look for companies and brands that are doing their part to help the world by supporting a cause.

 Do you think millennials are more likely to shop at places that are more socially conscious?

Without a doubt, yes. Millennials have proven to consider much more than just the quality, materials and price when deciding which products or services to purchase. A retail company’s social and/or environmental commitment is a significant consideration for the millennial consumer.

Millennial consumers are more likely to build long-term relationships and reward retailers that are socially and environmentally responsible and active. That being said, retailers must still present an overall value to the consumer that is competitive with the broader market to thrive in the long-term.

 

Brandon Rael is a New York-based retail strategy and operations Principal with deep experience as an industry leader for retail and global consulting firms. Brandon has led global delivery teams to help clients achieve operational efficiencies and sustainable profitability improvements, and he has defined transformational strategies to leverage technology solutions that address complex omni-channel business challenges. Brandon has partnered with global and iconic retail companies as they face the challenges of a very dynamic marketplace. 

Andrew Billings is a senior manager of retail and consumer products at the North Highland Company.  He has 8 years of management consulting experience, all within retail and consumer products industries.  He brings deep expertise within the areas of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Product Development, Strategic Sourcing and Supply Chain Transformation.  His project experience spans across Strategy Definition, Process Improvement and Systems Implementation. Andrew has served a multitude of retail clients, including vertical specialty retailers, global fashion brands, department stores and big-box leaders. 

Stylize Your Mobile Shop to Boost Conversions


Guest Blog by Brian Smyth, Wiser
 

Converting a shopper into a customer can be difficult, especially on your mobile site. Even though it may be frightening, it’s still important to know that mobile sites actually have a 97 percent abandoned cart rate. It’s intimidating, but can definitely be fixed with one word: merchandising. A good merchandising strategy will boost conversion rates and cut back on cart abandonment.

Whether it’s on a phone or in a physical setting, your store needs to be merchandised to appease the customers’ senses. Perhaps the widest gap between mobileand brick and mortar lies in the access to the products. When someone is shopping online, they can’t touch or fully experience the physical products before they purchase them, which is difficult to make up for. According to a PwC report, 60 percent of shoppers prefer shopping in a physical store to experience merchandise in person. The customer can only experience so much through a phone screen, but you can make up for it with helpful product descriptions and clear pictures.

You’d think this would put online retailers at a disadvantage, and in a way you are correct. If 100 people visit your mobile website, only three will make a purchase. However, good merchandising tactics can change this.

Be Crystal Clear

First things first, be sure to explain what your business does and what makes it interesting on your homepage. A minimalistic look on mobile is aesthetically pleasing, but there’s no reason why you can’t provide an “about” tab on the side. Provide contact info, or even a direct phone number that links to your store in case any questions arise.

Bring the In-Store Experience Online

Make up for the inability to physically experience the product by providing multiple clear images at different angles to show the customer what the item looks like. Don’t plague the customer with tedious pinching and zooming, just make the picture crystal clear and large. In-depth product descriptions combined with a beautiful interface can also help the customer decide if it’s the right product for them, getting rid of any uncertainty. Sometimes reading about the product just isn’t enough for the shopper, so include user reviews that reflect the pros and cons of the product.

Improve Your Webstore Layout

Create clean, simple layouts that are straight to the point. Big paragraphs that have to be zoomed in on are going to frustrate shoppers, so you are going to want to be concise when writing product descriptions. Add a brightly colored tab that links to a section solely for your sales and specials to attract browsers who are looking for a deal. Pop-ups and banners are distracting and can take away from an otherwise relaxed experience.

Make the Checkout Process Easy

At the end of the road, make sure you provide your customer with an easy checkout process. Approximately 38 percent of shoppers feel uncomfortable storing payment/delivery information in a phone. Restore comfort by including easy forms for them to fill out and be sure to offer a “check out as a guest” option. Use clear, big buttons for easy navigation throughout the process and include different payment options so they don’t have to enter sensitive card information on your site.

Optimizing your merchandising practices on your mobile site can change the current reputation mobile holds for abandoned carts. By creating a relaxed layout with simple navigation tools and secure payment methods, mobile conversion rates can increase greatly and become the new norm in eCommerce.

 

Brian Smyth is a Content Writer at Wiser. Wiser is a dynamic pricing and merchandising engine that monitors, analyzes, and reprices retail products in real-time. Wiser enables retailers to boost profit margins and revenue, price with confidence, and improve merchandising through powering the development of a sound pricing strategy.

 

Answer These Four Sales Tax Questions


Answer These Four Sales Tax Collection and Filing Questions to Avoid Expensive Issues

Guest Blog by Jonathan Barsade

It’s a sign of success when a company starts to experience rapid growth. Expanding into new markets and adding to your customer base is exciting. But it’s important to make sure you stay focused on all aspects of the business, not just your growth trajectory: Don’t allow growth to distract you from the administrative aspects of running your business, including sales tax collection and filing.

Most business owners have the best intentions when it comes to collecting and filing sales taxes, but they may not fully understand how it works. To avoid liability for major penalties and interest payments, you have to make sure you know the answer to these four sales tax collection and filing questions:

1. When should I file? This is an important question because filing cycles can be different across multiple tax jurisdictions, and taxing authorities may set deadlines on different days of the month. When you expand into new markets, it’s critical to consult all relevant taxing authorities and make sure you know when to file in every jurisdiction to maintain compliance.

2. What do I have to file? Sales tax isn’t the only levy business owners may be required to collect. In some instances, companies must collect use taxes. Your obligations will depend on the requirements placed at the point of registration. By understanding what you’re required to file up front, you can avoid costly penalties and interest assessments later.

3. Where do I have to file? A pizzeria on Staten Island that crosses a bridge to deliver pies in New Jersey may create a “nexus” – a business presence in a tax jurisdiction other than the one they primarily operate in, meaning the business must file sales taxes in both states. It’s vital to understand where to file to ensure compliance with tax obligations.

4. How do I file correctly? Generally speaking, the onus is on the business owner to file correctly, and that includes the obligation to present all relevant documentation. For example, if a customer claims to be eligible for a charitable organization tax exemption, it’s a good idea to ask for a certificate so you can document eligibility if asked later by a tax agency.

Taxing authorities generally don’t give business owners a break for good intentions, so it’s critical to make sure you understand when, what, where and how to file in advance. Failure to know the answer to any one of these questions can result in the requirement to pay major back taxes and penalties.

Instead of going it alone in a complex tax environment, many companies rely on a partner to assist them with sales tax compliance. An automated solution that applies the latest rates and regulatory rules to accurately collect and file sales taxes across jurisdictions can allow company leaders to get back to what they do best — running the business.

But whether you choose to handle your sales tax obligations in-house or find a reliable automated platform, it’s important maintain focus on administrative functions, even when entering a period of rapid growth. Knowing the answer to these four questions is a great first step that will help you make sure you fully comply with your sales tax and use fee obligations as you grow your company.

Jonathan Barsade is CEO of Exactor

Lost in Translation: When Great Designs Become Mediocre Displays


Guest Blog by David Muller

A great display is not only a work of art, a thematic rendering of a winter wonderland that evokes children’s stories and mythical creatures, an extravaganza of locomotion – of marching soldiers and dancing bears, of rotating cityscapes and the to-and-fro of villagers descending snow-covered slopes – that, through a combination of lighting, paint and hidden wires, tells a story and attracts a crowd.

A great display is also an example of coordination and translation, where a professional can actualize an artist’s vision into a three-dimensional model of perfection.

And yet, too often what we see on paper – what I see on paper – bears little resemblance to the nuances and flourishes, and the angular shapes and sharp lines, that represent an artist’s vision.

Whether a result of poor communication, or a product of too many chefs in the proverbial kitchen (in this case, too many artists in the studio), there is an increasing disconnect between designs for various displays and the construction of those respective plans.

From the majestic window displays of Manhattan’s fashion emporiums, in which the facade of a French Renaissance revival mansion looks like the reels in a movie that includes tuxedo-clad aristocrats and stylish flappers, and Colorado cowboys and Grand Prix drivers, to huge conventional halls where vendors use displays as conversation pieces and an informal means of business development, one thing is certain: If the construction of these displays falters, if a designer outsources too much of this work to too many firms (of differing skill and accountability), then that business will suffer.

Again, I issue this statement from experience because, where there is more one-on-one collaboration between a designer and the person responsible for bringing a blueprint to life, the chances for success improve markedly.

This point may seem obvious – indeed, it is obvious – but, in the face of deadlines, tightened budgets, searching for the right materials, and the back-and-forth of messages and in-person meetings, collaboration can soon descend into chaos.

The logistics become even more complicated, when trying to corral representatives from different firms to convene in a physical location.

What soon happens is an unintentional, and far from comical, version of “telephone” where a designer and one of several builders enter a conference room and talk to a squawk box – a hoot-n-holler piece of wired plastic with pinhole speakers – that connects to other vendors working on the same project.

Between the overlapping voices and poor sound quality, along with the difficulty of knowing who is on the line, the effect is like one very bad auditory hallucination: All noise, and no signal.

Therein lies the difference between a display that resonates with viewers, inducing suspension of disbelief before this cinematic depiction of the good life, and some cardboard cutout that is as unremarkable as it is forgettable.

The fact is that converting an idea into a tangible object is a discipline unto itself. It involves so many moving parts, literally, that to have the gears built and assembled by artisans, on the one hand, and drones, on the other; to extol craftsmanship, as you simultaneously invite the poverty of mediocre thinking into the workplace, is to have a display that will intellectually collapse because of its contradictions and physically crumble because of its shoddy construction.

Clarity demands the end of this conflict of visions.

Design mandates the erasure of confusion.

A great display requires great professionals, period.

David Muller is Founder and President of DCM Fabrication

Back-to-School Shopping Trends


By Stephanie Crets
 

Back-to-school shopping has yet to overtake holiday shopping, but it’s working hard to make its mark in sales. According to a report by Cardlytics, mid-July through August is the second largest shopping season in the United States. This data was collected from in-store and online purchase data from 70 percent of U.S. households.

The study found three specific trends in back-to-school shopping:

1. Consumers are making more frequent shopping trips versus making one big trip, which drives growth for retail sales.

According to the report, back-to-school retail spending increased 3.04 percent year-over-year in 2014 due to a 3.74 percent increase in shopping trips.

“To keep consumers coming back for more, retailers should drive awareness of their e-commerce site among customers who are shopping in-store and highlight convenience factors like free shipping, easy in-store returns, larger inventories and more,” says Caroline Sturm, marketing director for Cardlytics.

2. Specialty retailers are seeing the biggest gains during this shopping period.

Consumers were willing to explore new stores during this shopping season to access a wider variety of retailers, perhaps to get that one item they can’t get anywhere else. This could be anything from dorm décor to a new laptop. Regardless of the reason, this willingness to spend more time and money across different kinds of retailers drove 6.6 times more specialty retailer purchases. The biggest specialty store spike was in shoe and athletic footwear purchases with a 624 percent increase during this period.

3. Shoppers make more purchases over the mid-July to August shopping period online rather than in-store.

“One key insight from our analysis is that in many categories like apparel, office supplies and electronics, consumers will continue to purchase online even after school starts and in-store purchases have already tapered off,” Sturm says.

This could be due to parents shopping for an item their freshmen college student forgot and shipping it to them or simply because online shopping is so convenient.  But online retailers who continued to promote back-to-school savings got an extra boost after the in-store purchases dropped off.

“Retailers can extend back-to-school ads and promotions online to capture shoppers that are shopping online longer,” she says.

If retailers – both in-store and online – want to continue this upswing in sales and new trends, they can continue to attract customers in a number of ways:

  • Highlight specific back-to-school ads for those specialty store shoppers.
  • Extend online ads and offer more promotions once the traditional in-store back-to-school shopping has ended.
  • Invest in traffic-generating marketing tactics to increase awareness for those consumers looking for multiple shops to stop in.
  • Offer promotions and loyalty programs to retain current customers.

“As with many shopping holidays, the back-to-school shopping season has extended across a longer period of time,” Sturm says. “Retailers can time their promotions to maximize on this increased foot traffic.”

 

BlueSnap Helps Retailers Ward off Card Declines


By Stephanie Crets
 

One of the worst things that can happen to online retailers is a transaction not going through because of something wrong on their end. If a customer can’t make a purchase because of a declined card, even though they have the funds to pay and the card is not fraudulent, it’s likely they’ll give up and the retailer will lose that sale. It’s a bigger issue than most merchants realize and can account for a substantial loss of sales every year.

Smaller merchants that sell globally tend to have this issue more than big-box retailers. They tend to use one bank for all sales, but if a transaction is declined, they have no fallback bank to try again. And usually it’s not the retailers’ fault, but the bank not allowing a transaction to go through for any number of reasons.

To combat this problem, an intelligent payment gateway company called BlueSnap is offering a solution. It has built a tool that identifies where both the shopper and merchant are located and the types of products the merchant sells, and then routes the transaction to a bank based on where the transaction will have the best chance of being accepted. This technology allows merchants to process transactions more successfully by detecting where the shopper’s credit card is from and processing it through a bank that is authorized in that country.

By implementing this technology, many retailers have seen a five to 20 percent increase in conversion rates. For example, a gaming company called Disruptor Beam — creators of the Game of Thrones Ascent game on Facebook — offers in-game purchases for players and wanted a better way to facilitate these without game interruption. BlueSnap allowed Disruptor Beam to increase the profitability of every transaction by 20 percent and expanded into more than 100 countries due to its global reach.

When customers know what they want to buy, they want a seamless, hassle-free transaction process. And if they really want the product, they’ll call the retailer and try to finish the transaction over the phone, which causes even more stress on the consumer side because the entire point of shopping online is the lack of human interaction. But many merchants reported to BlueSnap that 30 percent of their call center calls were due to cards being declined because of a bank issue on the merchant’s end. Therefore, this will benefit everyone, including consumers, whether they realize it or not.

“Some merchants just don’t know there’s other options,” CEO of BlueSnap Ralph Dangelmaier says. “They just go online and connect themselves to one bank. That’s when we come in and explain to the merchant what’s going on, and then they look at alternatives. The real big merchants have figured it out. Most of them built their own routing programs. But the smaller merchants haven’t done that, so we help them.”

 

Using Venn Diagrams to Drive Brand Innovation


By Bruce Levinson, Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK
 

Back in grade school, we all learned about Venn diagrams. Those intersecting circles are used to demonstrate visually which portions of multiple sets are shared and which are not. I never quite knew when in my future life I would find them useful, if at all, but [many, many] years later I think I’ve finally got it: Venn diagrams are incredibly helpful tools for brand marketers to create and evaluate truly meaningful innovation that drives market performance. Or at least, that’s one way to use them.

By innovation I am referring chiefly to new products or services aimed at growing a brand.  Marketers know that for new products to succeed they must satisfy a consumer need, ideally an unmet and important consumer need. In reality, innovation must also achieve numerous other hurdles like internal financial targets, external retailer requirements and various social, environmental and regulatory constraints. Plus, critically, it must be a coherent fit with the brand positioning.

Typically the innovation funnel is filled with more concepts than a company has capacity to launch, so filters are applied (and testing done) to winnow down the field. Venn diagrams can be applied here. A company may also be looking to create new product concepts and Venn diagrams work just as well in doing that. Here is how it works: create a circle for each of the key drivers of your category, making sure to consider not just brand and consumer drivers, but also retail and corporate realities. Now partially overlap the various circles looking for synergies in the common areas: do your concepts satisfy multiple drivers? The strongest ideas typically do.

Let’s illustrate with some category examples: concentrated household cleaners deliver the consumer benefit of convenience, plus the joint financial and environmental benefits of smaller packaging and a more efficient retail shelf. That’s a ton of overlapping category drivers – lots of shared space in our Venn diagram. Greek yogurt is another good example, delivering on the protein craze, snacking culture, taste and a revenue trade-up opportunity for both brand and retailer.

The Venn diagram shown here demonstrates how a dairy company might evaluate an investment in Greek yogurt. I’ve created an overly simplistic Venn just to illustrate, but you’ll see the three key drivers selected are: high protein; snacking; and financial attractiveness. Greek yogurt is the one product they make that satisfies all three drivers: Kids yogurt delivers on Snacking and Financial Attractiveness, but not High Protein; String Cheese satisfies Snacking and High Protein, but not Financial Attractiveness and so on.

Your own approach may be much more involved, with more drivers and more diagrams. The trick is to specifically identify the most meaningful drivers as they emerge (e.g., the protein craze) rather than something as broad as “healthy eating.”  Doing this pre-work well takes time to uncover the most promising insights. But a keen understanding of your brand, category, competitive and retail environments – plus a throwback to grade school math – can go a long way to driving your brand performance.

Bruce is Vice President, Client Engagement at SGK, a leading brand development, activation and deployment provider that drives brand performance. Bruce is a passionate architect of brand strategy and is highly experienced in translating consumer insights and client needs. His experience helps clients meet market and regulatory demands while driving brand initiatives domestically and internationally. His previous positions include director-level marketing roles at Unilever in the US and UK, and as an advertising account executive.

Bruce Levinson <bruce.levinson@sgkinc.com>
Twitter: @SGKInc
Website: http://www.sgkinc.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/levinsonbruce

Yahoo Sets Its Sights on Polyvore

Anyone who loves fashion, creativity and a sense of community probably knows about Polyvore. I’ve made several of my own collages through its program, such as styles I’m coveting for spring or fall, a wish list for my new apartment and, most importantly, holiday shopping lists.

Polyvore brings 350 retailers together in one convenient place and allows users to curate and create a collage through an easy-to-use search function. Once you’ve created a collage of items you want to buy (or hope someone else will buy for you), you can share it to social media or on your website with provided html tags. The collage also includes direct links to retailers for each item, making shopping incredibly easy. The website also creates a community among its fashion-focused members, as they inspire each other and drive sales to retailers. The average basket size from Polyvore to a retailer is about $338.

Because of its position in the e-commerce market, the seven-year-old company announced this week that it will be acquired by Yahoo. With this acquisition, Yahoo hopes to enhance its consumer and advertiser offerings by utilizing Polyvore’s platform of combined community and commerce. Polyvore already dominates social, mobile and native content, so Yahoo hopes the company will accelerate its own growth in those arenas.

“I’m delighted to join Yahoo. Our core mission of empowering people to feel good about their style will remain the same, but with Yahoo’s help we’ll be able to make Polyvore even bigger and better for our user community,” says Jess Lee, co-founder and CEO of Polyvore.


Polyvore assures its users that this acquisition will only bring only positive changes for its users, allowing it to expand its resources. With Yahoo’s assistance, it plans to add new product features for everyone and new perks for its top members.

“Polyvore has built an excellent team, a category-leading product and a strong business based on a highly engaged community,” Yahoo’s SVP of Publisher Products, Simon Khalaf says. “The combination of Yahoo’s industry-leading digital content with Polyvore’s expertise in community and commerce has outstanding potential. We are thrilled to have the Polyvore team join us.”

While both assures its users that nothing will change, I wonder if there will be a period of growing pains. When Yahoo acquired Tumblr in 2013, there was an enormous outcry from its users because they thought their content would be controlled and limited. (It didn’t really, as far as I can tell as a regular Tumblr user.) Polyvore provides a much different type of content, so I tend to believe the usability and overall function of the site will remain unchanged and that this acquisition will only be for the better.

 

By Stephanie Crets

The Force is Strong with Toys “R” Us


By Stephanie Crets
 

By now we’ve all watched the trailer for the next Star Wars installment a million times. Or at least I have. Now retailers around the world are preparing for the influx of new Star Wars merchandise. But none more than Toys “R” Us.

Toys “R” Us is kicking off the hype for the new film with Force Friday on Sept. 5, a special event where its stores around the world will open their doors at midnight to give fans a chance to purchase exclusive, new Star Wars toys. Those who attend the midnight event will also have a chance to receive special giveaways, such as a limited edition LEGO Star Wars Commemorative Brick and an exclusive Star Wars poster.

“Since the introduction of the first Star Wars toy in 1977, Toys “R” Us has served as the ultimate destination for Star Wars playthings, providing millions of kids and collectors worldwide with their most beloved memorabilia,” says Richard Barry, executive vice president and global chief merchandising officer at Toys “R” Us. “Since then, Star Wars has become a time-honored franchise with loyal fan interest, making it a perennial, top-selling licensed property. With the upcoming introduction of the new Star Wars toy line, we’re excited to welcome the next generation of fans into our stores around the world with exclusive products, special events, feature shops and giveaways.”

If you’re lucky enough to live in New York City, you can attend the biggest Star Wars celebration at Toys “R” Us’s international flagship store in Times Square. The festivities kick off on Sept. 3 and the store will host a bunch of Star Wars-themed activities and events, such as:

  • Star Wars trivia;
  • A LEGO Star Wars make and take;
  • An art class and meet and greet with Star Wars and science fiction artist Jeff Carlisle;
  • Star Wars-themed cookie decorating at a “Wookiee” Cookie Party;
  • Costume contest;
  • Light Saber Academy class with members of New York Jedi, a community of cosplayers, martial artists and teachers who share practical stage combat techniques oriented toward light sabers;
  • A book signing and meet-and-greet with Steve Sansweet, CEO and president of Rancho Obi-Wan Inc., storied Star Wars author and former head of fan relations and director of content management at Lucasfilm Ltd.; and
  • Photo opportunities with costumed characters, including Furbacca, a character versioned after the Hasbro toy that makes wookiee sounds like Chewbacca, Geoffrey the Giraffe and more.

Force Friday will take place in Toys “R” Us stores in the United States, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the U.K. Leading up to this event, all stores will feature a countdown clock to increase the hype – if you weren’t hyped enough already.

Considering Toys “R” Us is a recognized name in 38 countries around the world as the authority on all things toys, it’s leveraging this position to bring awareness to these exclusive new toys. Not that Star Wars needs any assistance in creating brand awareness, but producing an event to celebrate the fans and give them the opportunity to purchase the highly anticipated new toys before anyone else demonstrates its commitment to its shoppers. It’s a testament to both brands that this will likely be a very successful event, even though the new Star Wars film has yet to even be released.

Many of the new toys will celebrate Star Wars: Episodes IV-VI. During Force Friday, shoppers can purchase:

  • Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo action figures
  • Chewbacca and R2D2 stuffed toys
  • Bobba Fett, Yoda and Gamorrean Guard masks
  • Charm bracelets featuring Darth Vadar and X-Wing fighters
  • 17 Ewok stuffed toys
  • 13 different puzzle sets

If you can’t make it to the store for Force Friday, you can still browse and shop the new merchandise at midnight on the website.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is in theaters Dec. 18.

How Do You Protect Your Budget and Your Identity While on Summer Vacation?


By Stephanie Crets
 

Summertime means beaches, barbecues and vacations. But hopefully it doesn’t mean credit card fraud or debt. Unfortunately, many people fall victim to these two issues, especially while on vacation. You leave your troubles behind and end up racking up way more with over-spending and lack of identity protection.

According to a recent survey conducted by Experian, people spend 68 percent more than they expect while traveling or vacationing and utilize their credit cards to pay for things they didn’t budget for. This leaves 52 percent of people surveyed strapped with credit card debt when they return home.

Some of the other survey results illustrate how budgets and vacations don’t mix well for anyone, especially for the millennial generation:

  • Forty-six percent of vacationers and 50 percent of millennials surveyed have paid for a vacation using a credit card when they didn’t have enough saved.
  • Thirty-seven percent of people and 44 percent millennials have cancelled vacation plans due to budget issues.
  • Thirty-three percent of travelers and 50 percent of millennials plan to use their tax refund to pay for 2015 summer travel.
  • Seventy-five percent say a staycation is a good way to minimize spending during time off.

“People want to come home from vacation with happy memories, not with unanticipated and unmanageable credit card bills,” says Guy Abramo, president of Experian Consumer Services. “Racking up excessive credit card debt without a plan to pay it off can put people, especially millennials, in a bind that could affect their financial health and credit status for years to come.”

While some of those surveyed were wise enough to cancel their expensive holiday plans, others were obviously coming home to a mound of debt. A majority, however, had the right idea with a staycation, which also benefits those worrying about protecting their valuable assets during travel. The last thing someone wants to worry about is his or her credit card being stolen or losing a passport. You go on vacation to relax, not to worry, but it happens more frequently than people realize.

One-in-five people surveyed had something containing personal information – such as a driver’s license, passport, smartphone or credit/debit card – stolen or lost while on vacation, according to a survey by Protect My ID. Respondents showed a nine-point increase over last year’s results with 39 percent saying they have been personally victimized by identity theft while traveling.

“Vacations give people the perfect chance to relax and stop thinking about everyday life, and that’s something identity thieves count on to make it easier to commit their crimes,” Abramo says. “By taking some precautions before, during and after vacation, people can reduce the risk of identity theft happening to them.”

While the vacationers themselves are not entirely at fault, there are ways to protect yourself and your sensitive information while traveling:

  • Leave unnecessary information at home, such as your Social Security card or birth certificate.
  • Limit the number of credit/debit cards you bring and use.
  • Avoid any public Wi-Fi for checking sensitive information, such as your bank account, because these locations make it much easier for hackers to access whatever you’ve input.
  • Ensure that your smartphone or laptop is password-protected. If you lose either, it’ll make it that much harder for someone to access your information. Most smartphones also have a tracking and remote wiping capabilities. So, if you can’t get your phone back, you can at least get rid of all your data from afar.
  • Be watchful and mindful of your accounts for the duration of your trip. You never know what could happen.

Upon returning home, make sure to review all of your accounts to ensure nothing was compromised during your trip. Taking these kinds of precautions could save you a headache in the long run and allow you to actually enjoy your vacation. Just make sure you’re also watchful of how much you’re spending on those carefully protected credit/debt cards.