A blog for all things retail and licensing.
TwitterFacebook

Lost at the Mall: Trends in Holiday Shopping Behavior

Guest Blog By Michael Bevan

alternate text
Image Source: Wikipedia

The holiday shopping season is upon us. Black Friday is creeping into Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday seems to last through New Years Day. And during this time, consumer behavior becomes less predictable. How does their gift buying change during this frantic time of year? Retailers need to pay attention to these shifts in behavior to ensure they are engaging with customers in a meaningful way.

At Placeable, we decided to dig into this by asking 1,000 holiday shoppers what they think. We discovered that consumers will stray from their usual shopping routines this holiday season. Specifically, nearly 60 percent of consumers will shop at a national retailer that they don’t normally visit. For example, it might be a husband buying yoga pants for his wife, a grandparent looking for toys for their grandkids, or someone else trying to find a gift that the outdoorsman in the family will love. It might be a shopper who will visit an unfamiliar big box store to find the best prices and selection on gifts for a large family.

Regardless of the reason, retailers will see new faces in their stores this holiday season. And the potential impact on their sales is huge: the National Retail Federation expects 140 million shoppers to shop in-store and online this Black Friday weekend alone. Just consider how many of those shoppers are visiting a store for the first time.

Our research also found that affluent shoppers are even more likely to shop at a chain store that they don’t normally buy from. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of shoppers who earn more than $100,000 will venture away from their usual stores.

So now that we know consumers are checking out unfamiliar national retailers this holiday season, a big question remains—how are they finding these new stores? Turns out that online isn’t just about Cyber Monday deals anymore. In fact, six out of 10 shoppers will consult a brand’s website before going to a physical store to make a purchase–and it’s not just to check pricing and product availability. Nearly 90 percent of the shoppers are looking for location-specific content. This content starts with address and phone number, but frequently consumers are also looking for holiday store hours, special promotions, coupons, parking directions and more. These consumers trust that this content is reliable, so retailers with multiple locations need to have the tools in place to ensure that the information is accurate, relevant and updated.

Another trend for retailers to pay attention to is how holiday shoppers use mobile phones to find stores. We found that more than 40 percent of holiday shoppers will use a smartphone to navigate to a store. This is an important reminder that retailers need to consider aspects of mobile and online channels that go beyond shopping and ordering–and carefully examine how they integrate with the in-store channel to create the best experience. For example, retailers simply must have local web pages with optimized locators for mobile devices. By anticipating how on-the-go shoppers will find unfamiliar stores, brands will establish a positive first impression before a customer even steps foot in the door.

Failing to enhance your online presence to attract more than just online shoppers is likely to cost retailers big sales this year. One in ten shoppers will give up completely on a gift search due to erroneous location information–and no retailer can afford to forgo that much revenue due to something so simple and avoidable.

To be successful, retailers need to adopt digital marketing tactics that ensure new and once-a-year shoppers can not only find the perfect gift, but that they leave with a positive impression and remain happy customers beyond the holiday season.

Michael Bevan is Director of Marketing at Placeable

Four Undeniable Facts about SEO for SMBs

For local business success you need word-of-mouth marketing and of course a great product, but you cannot ignore the importance of an online presence. You have to establish a strong web identity, which means well-constructed SEO to be sure your business appears among relevant search results on Google and other search engines.

The need for SEO for a local business is so great, that most will not survive without a plan to capture local online searches. Here’s four facts about SEO that are undeniably important and should drive SMBs to devote resources to SEO strategies:

1. 4 out of 5 consumers are turning to search engines for information about local businesses, products, and services.

This means that having a local online presence is essential for attracting customers. Let’s say people search for “Mexican restaurant San Francisco” and your business name doesn’t pop up in the results. How will they find you? Chances are, these Mexican food-craving patrons are going to choose a restaurant from the list of options that immediately appear in their search results. So, if you even want a chance at capturing 4 out of 5 customers, it’s crucial to be one of the options in their local search results.

2. 50% of people who make local searches on a phone visit a store within a day, and 34% of tablet and desktop searchers do the same.

Local searchers are ready to act. They are conducting the search for a specific reason, and many visit a nearby location within a day in order to fulfill a need. Businesses that appear prominently in local search results are not only getting seen by consumers, but are also being visited by online searchers who are very likely to convert into real paying customers. Making your business easy to find online through quality SEO best practices can substantially affect opportunities for sales and business growth.

3. 53% of searchers click on the first organic result, with 25% going to the 2nd and 3rd results.

The closer to the top of the page your business information is, the more exposure your business gets. It’s that simple. If your business is on the second page of results, then it will likely be ignored. These statistics highlight how relevant it is to have your online presence search engine-optimized so that you have a better chance of reaching your target market when they’re looking for your service or product. You also need to recognize your results placement will change, due to adjustments in the search engine’s algorithms or actions by your competitors’ own SEO actions.

4. 88% of consumers conduct local searches on smartphones and 84% do so on a tablet or computer.

Local is in demand. Let’s face it: convenience matters and people will make purchasing decisions based on their location and which businesses are in close proximity. Smartphones are about immediacy. The user might be on the road and need a soccer ball for their kid’s game. They search for “sporting goods” in their specific location, and will pick the result that is closest.

Consumers want technology to guide them to make efficient choices, and if you want to capture customers, you need to make sure search engines can easily point potential buyers in your direction.

The statistics don’t lie. Consumers that want to find local products and services are using their mobile devices to conduct searches, they want to find information quickly, and they’re likely to make purchases. SMBs should recognize how people are increasingly using technology to find local merchants and the implications of this trend. They need to understand the role that smart SEO and content creation should play in their marketing strategies in order to appear prominently in search results.

Russell Wallace is Founder and CEO of 29 Prime

3 Mobile Apps Small Business Owners Can Use to Increase Foot Traffic

Smartphone apps have radically changed the way people shop, and retail businesses that don’t adapt risk losing money. A study by UsableNet found that more than 10 percent of smartphone users have used their phone in-store to look up product information and compare prices. Consumers still want the experience of talking with a salesperson and seeing the product in person, so the brick-and-mortar store isn’t a thing of the past yet. Here are some of the best smartphone apps out there to help drive foot traffic into your stores.

Shopkick

Shopkick is an app that makes consumers aware of all the best products available in stores near them and incentivizes in-store traffic. By offering “kicks”—points that can be redeemed for giftcards—Shopkick rewards consumers simply for walking into your store. Then if they scan an in-store item with their smartphone or make an in-store purchase, they are awarded with extra “kicks.”

Shopkick is partnered with many popular stores offering gift cards, including Target, Best Buy, American Eagle and more. Shopkick also has a running feed that alerts users to new deals and products being featured in local stores, which not only increases foot traffic but also increases brand engagement with thousands of potential customers. Shopkick offers many of the features of popular apps like eBay and Amazon’s shopping apps, and it must be doing something right; according to Nielsen, Shopkick was the fourth most frequently used shopping app, behind Amazon, eBay and Groupon.

SpinDing

SpinDing is an app that can help you draw in foot traffic by giving potential customers a daily prize. The way it works: You allocate some portion of your product inventory to the SpinDing app as prizes. Once uploaded into the merchant-side portion of the app, SpinDing locates consumers near your store and sends them the prize offer directly to their smartphone. Consumers must arrive in store and present their e-voucher to receive the prize, which not only gets them in the physical building, but it gives you the opportunity to sell them an accessory or service that goes with that free prize. Merchants can control how many prizes are offered, so SpinDing won’t give away your entire store’s stock when you aren’t looking.

LoyalBlocks

LoyalBlocks is the first-ever automatic check-in loyalty app that offers customers a unique and personalized experience specifically tailored to your business and their preferences. LoyalBlocks enables you to create an in-app loyalty program that can include status privileges, punch-card style reward systems, referral coupons, and even a happy hour reward that can pull in customers during your slowest hours.

Not only does LoyalBlocks encourage people to come to your store, it also builds brand loyalty and seeks to create a long-term relationship between you and your customers. LoyalBlocks even offers a device you install in-store that detects LoyalBlocks customers as they walk in. It then sends personalized messages and rewards to their smartphone. If customers allow it, LoyalBlocks can even automatically check them in on Facebook, letting all their friends know about your business.

Go Omni-Channel This Black Friday

Guest blog by Oren Levy

As we prepare to kick off the holiday shopping season with two of the biggest shopping days of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s a good time to look back and take stock of how much the retail industry has changed in just one year.

Last year, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday craze was all about m-commerce – especially optimizing the mobile experience for the holiday season. And indeed, TechCrunch reported that overall online sales saw a 19% increase on Black Friday 2013, but mobile sales surged 43%. Cyber Monday also saw record-breaking results: e-commerce sales increased by 20% from 2012-2013 while m-commerce sales increased by 55% year-over year, according to Mashable. The question is, how will the Black Friday Weekend, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, be different in 2014?

For much of 2014 retailers have taken note of the general rise in popularity of online retail channels, and have wondered whether brick-and-mortar retail would survive to see another holiday season. But on the brink of Black Friday Weekend 2014, brick-and-mortar retail has never been more relevant – and online retail channels are just as critical.

Upping the ante: an Omni-Channel Black Friday Weekend

Creating an Omni-Channel strategy is critical for retailers regardless of time of year, but for many retailers the upcoming holiday season will be about offering a seamless Omni-Channel experience. As opposed to last year’s focus on the mobile channel, this holiday season will be characterized by retailers’ attempts to break down the barriers between retail channels and engage consumers across channels.

Here are some strategies leading retailers are using to provide holiday shoppers with a seamless cross-channel experience:

Synchronizing cross-channel logistics

In the Omni-Channel age, inventory transparency is of critical concern for the retailer as well as the consumer. Retailers are implementing enhanced supply chain management infrastructure and protocols to minimize friction from the shopping experience at every channel.

Retailers are boasting flexible fulfillment and delivery options, including buy online pick up in-store, buy in-store with home delivery, order online in-store with home delivery, and same day delivery. They are also making product availability and supply information more transparent for consumers and sales associates, to prevent situations where retailers’ cannot fulfill orders because of lack of supply. Finally, retailers are preparing for the influx of holiday orders by hiring extra temporary employees to ensure the order fulfillment processes are seamless as the shopping experience.

Incentivizing cross-channel shopping

Retailing over a number of channels significantly increases the potential for conversions by encouraging purchasing at multiple channels. By incentivizing shopping at individual channels, retailers are boosting sales at all of their channels using tactics such as reminding consumers about in-store sales at the checkout or incentivizing shopping at other channels with channel-specific coupons, deals, or sales.

This strategy allows retailers to leverage all commercial touch points to their advantage, while engaging customers equally across channels. Cross-channel incentives not only encourage shopping at every channel, but they make consumers feel appreciated by offering discounts at alternative channels in return for purchases at one channel.

Optimizing Omni-Channel technology

In addition to inventory management solutions, much technology has been developed to make the cross-channel shopping experience more seamless. There are beacons, which incorporate elements of the online shopping experience in the in-store experience through mobile devices. Using Bluetooth technology, beacon hardware, which is installed on store walls, communicates with the shopper’s mobile device to offer in-store assistance, personalized recommendations and offers, and sales and discount notifications.

Another up and coming technology that incorporates the mobile phone in the in-store shopping experience, mobile payment technology, like Apple Pay and Google Wallet, will enable consumers to easily pay for purchases electronically – much like online payment.

Retailers are also continuing efforts to integrate technologies that upgrade the e-commerce experience, and engage consumers online as in-store. Responsive webpages, personalization resources, and post-sale customer engagement services are examples of technologies that enable retailers to humanize their brand’s e-commerce experience for the holiday season and year round.

Internationalizing the offering: cross channels and borders

Retail innovation today is breaking down the borders between online and offline shopping, but it’s also enabling retailers to cross-physical and national borders, as well. While enhancing their cross-channel offerings and technological resources, retailers are focusing on optimizing the shopping experience for cross-border customers, as well.

The Internet is enabling shoppers worldwide to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, and retailers, eager to take advantage of significant conversion opportunities, are integrating solutions that make cross-border purchases possible and easy. Technologies, like BorderFree, that are minimizing the hurdles of cross-border retail convert prices into local currencies, factor taxes and duties into prices, manage international shipments and customs clearance, and localize websites and payment options for international shoppers.

While these obstacles seem minor, they significantly impact international conversion rates and consumer comfortability with cross-border shopping.

Capitalize on Black Friday Weekend hype

According to MarketWatch, consumer enthusiasm for Black Friday Weekend has never been higher and retailers are eager to maximize their Black Friday success by meeting the consumer demand for a seamless cross-channel and cross-border shopping experience.

Oren Levy is CEO of Zooz

Convert Showrooming into In-Store Sales This Holiday Season

Guest blog by Ralph Crabtree

“Stores are wonderful. You can examine all the stuff for sale, and then buy it cheaper from another company online!” Sound familiar? This modern consumer tactic, commonly known as showrooming, is expected to continue during the upcoming holiday season. While some retailers perceive the practice as a threat, smart merchants are beginning to use it as an opportunity. With the help of in-store analytics technologies, stores can take action to convert showroomers into brick-and-mortar buyers.

A 2014 retail survey by Accenture reveals that in-store shopping is rebounding in popularity, but still needs improvement. The good news is that data capture and analytics technologies for brick-and-mortar environments can help retail organizations provide their customers with the best possible in-store experience. These solutions provide information to help decision-makers better understand today’s multichannel shoppers, delivering the equivalent of clickstream analytics for walk-in stores.

  • Drive In-Store Sales with Personal Service

Retail stores can offer shoppers something no website can: individual service from a real person, face-to-face. Holiday shoppers commonly need advice about the perfect gift and require help with details like sizes, feature comparisons, and gift wrapping. Savvy retailers carefully gauge staff levels so they can provide the right level of personal service to their customers. To do this effectively, they need accurate, real-time data about customer traffic throughout the store and at registers so staff can be deployed at the right places and times. Historical data helps decision-makers identify trends and make forecasts so they can match staff levels to the ebb and flow of holiday customer traffic.

  • Make In-Store Purchasing Convenient for Online Shoppers

Reverse showrooming is the consumer practice of using online resources to research potential purchases and then visiting a store to buy the product. Customers like the instant gratification of walking out of a store with a holiday gift safely in hand and one more person checked off Santa’s nice list. Retailers can support this multichannel shopping habit by making it easy for consumers to browse for products online and pickup items in the store. While customers are at the store to collect online orders, they frequently purchase additional merchandise—boosting overall revenue. To make the most of the reverse showrooming trend, retailers need a holistic multichannel data analytics strategy that’s able to combine both online and in-store insights.

  • Use Analytics Technologies to Improve Speed of Service

Retailers can also keep their customers happy during the busy holiday shopping season by using in-store analytics technologies to streamline checkout. These systems can combine real-time and historical data about traffic and queues to help managers predict when checkout demand will be high so they can deploy staff appropriately. Stores can also leverage wait time estimates to communicate to their customers about what to expect. Depending on staffing and logistics, a long line may not mean a lengthy wait—but if customers don’t know this, they may dump their carts and leave. Showrooming is less attractive to customers when they see that they can get served quickly and walk out with product in hand, rather than wait for an online order to be shipped.

  • Enhance Shopping for Connected Customers with Proximity Marketing

Finally, location-based technologies combined with other types of in-store data can help retailers engage more effectively with customers as they browse in the store. For example, they can send personalized notifications and promotions to shoppers’ mobile devices based on their proximity to specific merchandise. These real-time interactions enrich the in-store experience for consumers and can help retailers transform browsers into purchasers.

Showrooming and reverse showrooming both offer opportunities for retailers to boost sales during the holidays—and year round. Modern in-store analytics and multichannel marketing technologies can deliver a comprehensive view of customer activities that help retailers delight customers, and most importantly, close sales.

Ralph Crabtree is CTO and co-founder of Brickstream, the in-store analytics market leader. He is an expert in the development and application of technologies for brick-and-mortar analytics. 

Commercial Windows in Retail Store Design

Guest Blog by Ryan Gavin

Your retail store’s design is one of the most crucial elements of your success. The impact you make on your customer when they first walk in the door is what stays with them forever, so when they hear or see your name anywhere they think of the design. A lot of store owners, however, decide to focus on the interior more than the exterior. The walls, lighting, layout, and colors are all important elements of your design, but the real eye-catcher happens before the customer even walks in the door. The moment the potential customer sees your store, they immediately record this image in their mind because this design is how they’ll find you from now on. That image is their first impression.

Commercial Window Designs

The role commercial windows play in the designing of your retail store comes down to three factors, each highly dependent on your target demographic:

  • Materials
  • Color
  • Features

First, you must choose your target demographic if you haven’t already. If it’s a new store design and you’re a startup store, then this is the perfect time for you to decide. Afterwards, choose materials, colors, and features to match this demographic. As it would be impossible to go through all of the possible combinations of materials, colors, and features for all of the possible target demographics, we’ll focus on just one: teen clothing.

Materials

Targeting something like the teenage demographic means that you have to stand out and be unique among the rest. If they can walk by your store without even noticing you, then you may need a new window design. Some of the materials you have to choose from include wood, vinyl, aluminum, and glass. The teenage generation is likely not interested in wood windows, although there are some complicated designs you could create with them. Full glass windows are likely the best route in this case.

Colors and Features

The glass option could provide you with some interesting design ideas, and is the most popular for retail stores. You could have a framing option with colors, such as blue for a surf shop. However, the real eye-poppers come from the features. Some of the features you could use are tints, films, and engravings. I would recommend asking a designer what they recommend you place in, on, and around your windows. If you are a store like Hot Topic, you’ll definitely use tints to make the windows darker, but still see-through. Engravings are more common for luxury stores, such as a jewelry store, but anything can be effective if used properly. Films provide protection as well as aesthetics, and are highly customizable in terms of giving your window a design. Last but not least there’s what goes in the windows. Posters, products, manikins, sales, and other items can be placed in the window to grab the attention of passersby. The combination of these features and materials with clean new commercial windows can and likely will attract new customers.

Conclusion

Ignoring your commercial windows and your storefront can be deadly to your image. Find your demographic, and target their interests and what design they would look at and remember. Using plain glass windows with posters may cut it, but you should get a little more creative with the materials, framing options, and the numerous features available.

Ryan Gavin is an associate of Aeroseal Windows & Storefront. He believes windows can improve a business dramatically when installed professionally.

Keep Up With Your Customers: 4 Shopping Apps You Need to Know About

Gone are the days of clipping coupons and lugging around bulging coupon organizers. Our on-the-go culture doesn’t allow for that kind of preparation for every shopping trip. To keep up with the evolving technology, you must think about what devices and programs your customers are using. To keep your customers coming back to your shop for the best deals, here are four apps to consider incorporating into your store.

ShopKick

Shopkick gamifies the shopping experience, enabling shoppers to earn points for making purchases or even just browsing at participating stores. Users simply scan an item using the app on their smartphone and earn a designated number of kicks, which are accumulated and can be redeemed for free gift cards. Purchases and linking a Visa card are rewarded with even more points. The app partners with retail giants like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, Old Navy, Sports Authority and Crate & Barrel. Shopkick adds a new level of brand loyalty while making even the most mundane shopping experience a little more fun for your customers.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

CheckPoints

Like Shopkick, CheckPoints is also based on the principle of gamification, but has a wider reach. CheckPoints offers even more ways to score big rewards through integration at grocery stores as well as through games and videos you can play or watch at home. This app uses the latest in geofencing technology to offer users hyper-relevant promotions. You can send your customers push notifications on their smartphones with sales and coupons when they are near your store to make sure they see what you have to offer. With prizes ranging from Amazon gift cards to iPads to American Airlines miles to charity donations, much of this app’s success can be attributed to its ease of use and variety. It has a broad range so your business is sure to benefit regardless of its specialization.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

Checkout 51

This app strictly targets grocery shoppers and rewards them for specific purchases with cash back. Checkout 51 changes their promotions each week and assigns varying values to branded purchases (like Triscuits or Glade plug-ins) as well as non-branded goods like fruits, vegetables and staples like milk and bread. The goods can be purchased from any grocery store, which is a major bonus for users because they don’t have to worry about switching stores. After purchasing promo items, users simply upload a photo of their receipt to redeem deals. After earning $20 in your Checkout 51 account, you are mailed a check with your cash-back savings.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

Key Ring

This app serves as an easy way to keep loyalty and membership cards organized so you don’t have to keep them all on your actual key ring. All you need to do is take a photo of the front and back of each card to store all of your account information. Then, simply pull up your card on the app and scan your phone at the store. Key Ring also offers exclusive coupons, shopping list creation and a social sharing feature, which allows users to share cards, coupons and shopping lists with friends and family through email, Twitter and Facebook.

Price & Availability: Free; Available for iOS and Android.

No matter what your retail business offers, there are apps that you can partner up with to provide excellent customer service. It will help your customers save some money so they are sure to come back and buy more.

Deck the Halls With Analytics

Guest Blog by By Murali Nadarajah

It’s never been easier for customers to get what they want: from the Internet to social media to mobile and, of course, in-store, shoppers can purchase virtually anything they want anytime from anywhere. As a result of this multichannel approach, retailers now have access to a vast pool of customer data that hasn’t existed until fairly recently.

By analyzing this data, retailers can better predict consumer behavior and respond in real-time to consumers’ individual needs.

To understand how the buyer expects to be “spoken to” in today’s omni-channel world, whether through a smartphone app, store associate or live chat online, retailers reach new depths in understanding customer shopping patterns and desires. Following are the types of analytics that retailers should be paying close attention to this holiday season, all of which could hold the key to not only improving the customer experience, but increasing operational efficiency and profits, as well.

Predictive Analytics for a More Customized Customer Experience

The traditional “one size fits all” approach can no longer address the unique requirements of today’s empowered and informed customers, which is leading retailers to focus more on understanding customers’ personal characteristics and shopping preferences. Retailers can capitalize on this shift by analyzing predictive analytics, which leverages data generated from social media, feedback forms and point of sale systems to extract relevant information related to customers’ preferences. By leveraging this powerful data, retailers can better manage their back-end operations by accurately forecasting future demand, creating a real-time supply chain to engage customers more effectively.

For example, data is compiled from a mobile shopping app like Retailer iQ, which evaluates shopping baskets and shopping history. Based on that data, retailers can deliver a highly personalized experience for their customers, offering coupons and specific updates on products customers want and need.

Marketing and Customer Analytics to Access the Difficult-to-Reach Customers

With predictive analytics, retailers are armed with detailed, customer-specific data that allows them to personalize the shopping experience for existing loyal shoppers. However, to attract new customers in today’s hyper-connected world where they are constantly bombarded with messages from a variety of channels, it’s more difficult than ever to grab – and keep – their attention.

By leveraging marketing and customer analytics, retailers can reign in these difficult-to-reach customers. How? By closely analyzing real-time customer data – obtained through sentiment analysis and understanding motivators of buyer behavior to predict their response – to collect detailed insights on customer preferences and introduce targeted marketing campaigns by varying the look, messaging and tone for the intended customer set.

Once customers are acquired, retailers can use analytics to consistently engage with them throughout their lifecycle, converting them into loyal brand advocates over time. This data also allows for measuring, managing and analyzing a marketing campaign more efficiently.

Armed with predictive, customer and marketing analytics, retailers can:

  • Launch successful targeted marketing, advertising, promotions and product offers to attract customers
  • Modify existing pricing strategies, offering competitive prices while sustaining profit margins
  • Identify profitable target customers through customer segmentation and profiling
  • Establish a close relationship with customers based on a deep understanding of their behavior and wants/needs
  • Identify customers likely to move on to a competitor or elsewhere, and determine drivers and predictors of attrition to reduce customer churn

Reaping the Rewards

The opportunity to achieve a competitive advantage from analytics-powered retail is huge. On the product front, it helps in tracking customer needs, leading to the design and creation of innovative product lines, revenue streams, and in some cases, new markets. On the operational side, this valuable data can help retailers gain better understanding of how to improve efficiency across their business.

Rising GDP growth rates, increasing disposable incomes and growing consumer spending sentiment have driven the global retail industry uptake, with the market expected to be worth approximately $20 trillion by 2017, according to market research firm, Lucintel. In order for retailers to fully tap the market opportunity, especially during peak season, analytics can be a powerful tool for getting ahead in customer relationship building and streamlining multichannel operations, among other benefits.

Murali Nadarajah is CEO, Xchanging Malaysia

Stretch the Black Friday Dollar: How Retailers Prep for Holiday Shopping

When something is so good, it is natural to try to relish in it as long as possible. This is especially true when it comes to shopping, specifically Black Friday shopping. In an effort to harvest as much of the holiday shopping revenue they can, businesses have been expanding Black Friday shopping hours, stretching it out over days, and even weeks, to where shoppers may start referring to it as “Black November.”

One Day Becomes 30

Recent tradition has it that the biggest shopping day of the year is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Eager and well prepared shoppers pile up at the entrance, ready to enter stores like Wal-Mart on Black Friday to begin the frenzy of hunting down the best deals for Christmas gifts. For retail stores, this is the Super Bowl of shopping days. This year, however, things have changed. It’s no longer just a big day of shopping.

In order to compete with other businesses, maximize sales and keep customer traffic flowing as steadily as possible, retailers are advertising sooner, enticing consumers to take advantage of pre-Black Friday bargains and offering vouchers for those who couldn’t find what they were looking for that day, getting them to come in after Black Friday, as well. All of this is to push the sales of non-gift items.

The earlier customers get to their holiday shopping, the less they focus on their holiday shopping list, which can plateau customer traffic at a time when stores should be busting at the seams. Thus, retailers focus on non-gift purchases, getting those shoppers who may already be set with Christmas to come back and shop more for themselves and their immediate families. More than half of consumers who earned $100,000 or more said they plan on purchasing non-gift items during what is now known as Black November, according to Forbes. Thus, getting customers in early and giving them reasons to keep coming back, even after their holiday list is complete, is a stroke of marketing genius for retailers.

Feeling the Pulse of Consumers

There’s an old adage that says too much of a good thing is too much, something many Black November shoppers can relate to. Last year, some big-name stores, like Costco, sensed that backlash and, as a benefit to their employees (but mainly for good PR), the big box store gave Thanksgiving night off to its employees. This proved to benefit the company, as consumers seemed to like the fact that stores like Costco didn’t feed the shopping frenzy on a holiday evening.

Timing, it seems, is vital when it comes to holiday shopping. Jumping in the frenzy that is Black Friday doesn’t always pan out. Even though Kohl’s pulled in the most consumer traffic during its Black Friday special last year, it still came in below their expectations and had to lower their guidelines the next quarter.

Today’s strategies for Black November now include ways to making sure consumers are happy even before they begin shopping. Wal-Mart guaranteed consumers the merchandise they sought would be in stock, holding one-hour, in-stock guarantees twice on Thanksgiving last year. The retailer assured customers that if they couldn’t find any of specific items owing to them being sold out that it would ship that merchandise to a Wal-Mart they preferred before Christmas.

Another strategy that paid off was offering free gift cards with purchases. In fact, one big box store handed out a limited number of free gift cards ranging from $10 to $100 to customers who purchased doorbuster items like iPads and iPhones, flat-screen TVs and Keurig coffee makers. These types of incentives can help boost sales at a time when the average shopper is spending two percent less on holiday shopping than previous years.

Cyber Shopping Trends

Cyber Monday is another strategy that has pulled Black Friday into a month-long endeavor. This shopping extravaganza has added another dimension to holiday shopping. Though it hasn’t killed the tradition of Black Friday shopping, it indeed has become part of its holiday shopping madness. Cyber Monday has given shoppers the opportunity to shop around for the best deals. And they can do so from the comforts of their own homes or on their smartphones.

Thus, retailers are pushing the online campaign hard, building up email subscriber lists, putting out bargains before Halloween and putting all their stock in mobile shopping, where consumers can shop from their mobile devices quickly and easily while on the go.

Social media sites have proven to increase shopping interest during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Pinterest’s traffic was up 3.6 times the average around Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days, according to Piqora. This proves that shoppers aren’t just “pinning” items they like on Pinterest, they’re looking to purchase them, too.

Triggit reported that Facebook saw a similar spike in traffic, with advertisers on Facebook enjoying a 34 percent spike the click-through re-targeting rates on Cyber Monday.

Protect Your Customers, Build Their Trust and Grow Your Business

When your customers come to your site to shop, they’re looking for convenience, ease of purchase and entertainment. They also are looking for protection from the online “bad guys.” Your customers trust you to automatically protect them from hackers, identity theft, phishing, malware, and the like. In light of some recent retail security breach fiascoes, however, a growing number of consumers are wary about shopping online.

How are you protecting your customer’s identities and profiles while they browse your site? What kinds of security policies do you have in place? Here are some ways to increase your security online so that your customers trust you implicitly.

SSL Certificates

You probably already encrypt your data with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer technology); it is the most common form of encryption for e-commerce sites. SSL encrypts sensitive information , i.e. a customer’s credit card information, so that the data is completely secure on your server. SSL protocol is only as good as its certificate, however.

The SSL certificate contains information about who created the certificate, who issued the certificate, gives the site’s domain, and proves the site is what it says it is. The certificates should be 128-bit encrypted; 40-bit is easier to hack, suggest DigiCert.

You can obtain an SSL certificate by getting it from a vendor, or you can sign it yourself. Signing it yourself is not recommended; the whole point of an SSL certificate is to make sure the encryption protocol is correct. If you get the certificate from a vendor, you are assured of the certificate’s authentication.

Authentic SSL certificates mean a safe site and can actually increase your sales. Research has shown that when customers are on an e-commerce site and see “trust marks” like VeriSign, they feel safer shopping with you because they know you’re legitimate.

Explain your privacy policy

Any successful online business owner will have a clear, concise and descriptive privacy policy stated on their site, notes BusinessWeek. A good privacy policy should explain what types of information it is collecting from the customer, including. email addresses and payment information. It should also state what the information is for, how long it will be kept, and why it was required. If you don’t share information with other businesses, put that in the policy, as well. Include your contact information: name of your business, address, phone number, and an email address of an employee.

You will go a long way to gaining a customer’s trust when you explain in detail how you are dealing with their privacy on your site.

General practices

Your website needs to show it can be trusted in as many ways as possible. Have an ‘About Us’ page and have pictures of executives and/or employees, along with customer testimonials on it. This is especially important because this page gives a customer a sense of what kind of business you run.

Check out the security policies practiced by your server. Make sure you have standard security measures in place, such as a firewall and spam filters, and always scan any new hardware before it’s installed on your network, suggests Stay Safe Online.

You might have customers who are overly concerned about identity theft. Have a place on your site (a brief statement on your home page would be fine) that expresses your desire for a safe and pleasant shopping experience, and possibly offer information on how they can protect themselves with an identity theft protection service.

Get a Better-Business-Bureau accreditation, and display this prominently somewhere on your home page. It’s yet another way of showing how legitimate your business is.

It all comes down to trust. The more security measures you implement, both small and large, will go a long way to demonstrating that you care about your customer, their privacy, and their identity. Your business will only grow if customers know that are safe when they’re with you.