Coming Soon: EMV Transactions

EMV is a global standard for credit and debit cards based on chip card technology. Issuers around the world are including chips in bank cards and merchants are moving to EMV-compliant terminals to increase security and reduce fraud resulting from counterfeit, lost and stolen cards.

The United States is one of the last countries to migrate to EMV chip technology. However, the October 1, 2015 deadline created by major U.S. credit card issuers has given all payment industry entities, good reason to consider faster adoption.  After that date, card-present fraud liability will shift to whoever is the least EMV-compliant party in a fraudulent transaction. Any parties not EMV-ready could face costly penalties in the event of a large data breach.

EMV cards store payment information in a secure chip rather than on a magnetic stripe and unlike a magnetic stripe card, it is virtually impossible to create a counterfeit EMV card that could successfully conduct an EMV payment transaction. Merchants that experience fraud perpetrated by the use of counterfeit cards can potentially reduce this type of fraud by adopting EMV technology in card present point-of-sale (POS) locations.

The microprocessor chip creates a unique transaction code that cannot be used again each time an EMV card is used for payment. If a hacker attempted using stolen chip information from a specific point of sale, the stolen transaction number created in that instance wouldn’t be useable again and the transaction would be denied. EMV’s dynamic functionality greatly improves the security of payment transactions for card authentication and transaction authorization.

If your POS hardware has been upgraded and activated to process via EMV, once a customer tries to swipe a chip card through the card reader, the POS will respond with a message indicating for the chip card to be inserted into the chip card reader to complete the transaction. You don’t have to be concerned about having to notice the cardholder has an EMV card before they present it for payment because the POS application will alert you that the card is chip transaction capable. Should they try swiping to pay, you will be alerted to instruct the customer to insert or dip the chip card into the chip reader. When an EMV card is dipped, data flows between the card chip and the issuing financial institution to verify the card’s legitimacy and create the unique transaction data.

Furthermore, the issuer defines the Cardholder Verification Method (CVM) and the card itself instructs the POS on whether PIN or signature is required during its interaction with the terminal, based on how the issuer defined it. A chip and signature transaction is just as it sounds; it uses a chip card that won’t require the customer to enter a PIN to complete the transaction. Chip and PIN transactions do require the customer to enter a PIN to complete the transaction.

To process chip and PIN, the POS hardware needs to have the capability to encrypt the consumer’s PIN in a PCI PTS certified PIN Entry Device (e.g. a PIN Pad). Encryption is the process of encoding messages or information in such a way that only authorized parties can read it by decrypting it.

Though it may be a slow transition in the U.S. overall, those who get chip-and-PIN cards will be able to use them right away. If a terminal doesn’t have the ability to accept a PIN, it will then step down to accepting a signature. There should always be a secondary option.

Please call USB Payment Processing’s local Towson, Maryland office at 410-828-4286 for more information.



New Safeguards Against Credit Card Fraud

Another day, another report of a major data breach — or so it seems. Credit card issuers and national chain stores have been in the news lately after being targeted and bested by identity thieves and hackers. But now they’re striking back in various and innovative ways to protect themselves and their customers’ data.

According to an online article from, credit card issuers like MasterCard® and Capital One® are gearing up in the war against fraudulent transactions and the criminals who make them. MasterCard is in the midst of launching two new programs this year. The first, launched in July and called Identity Theft Resolution, assists customers with canceling stolen credit cards, alerts reporting agencies to card theft and searches for stolen personal data online. Additionally, MasterCard is broadening its Zero-Liability Policy, which protects cardholders in transactions requiring a customer signature, to cover all ATM and PIN-based transactions.

Over at Capital One, a program called Second Look was introduced in May, providing a select group of cardholders with email alerts flagging recurring, renewing or duplicate charges. A spokesman for the company reports that customers have become more aware of potentially fraudulent duplicate charges and are more likely to ask questions. The program will be expanded to all cardholders in the coming months.

On the retail side, Walmart — the victim of a serious security breach in 2005 and 2006 that targeted the chain’s point-of-sale system and siphoned source code and other sensitive data to a computer in Eastern Europe — now requires customers paying with credit cards to enter their three-digit security codes into the payment terminal at the point of sale for transactions for over an undisclosed amount. “People are used to providing their three-digit code with online shopping so it’s not a big shock to them,” Walmart spokesperson Dianna Gee told “We’ve seen a reduction in fraudulent transactions.”

In June, Walmart’s warehouse operation Sam’s Club became the first major retailer to issue its co-branded credit card with an embedded microchip to help combat fraud. Chip-enabled EMV cards, already in use worldwide, make it more difficult for thieves to duplicate cardholder information. By one estimate, 70 percent of credit cards will be chipped by the end of 2015.

All of these anti-fraud efforts underscore the fact that data security is EVERYBODY’s responsibility. USB Payment Processing® knows that secure payment processing helps keep you, your business and your customers safe from fraudsters and thieves, and we are committed to keeping our network as safe as possible from data breach threats. That’s why we stress the critical importance of PCI compliance and the value of EMV technology in keeping personal and financial data secure. To learn more, call our local office in Towson, Maryland at 410-828-4286.


4 Social Media Tips for Small Business Owners

Owning a small business is no easy feat. There’s the daily transactions to worry about, meeting staffing needs, and of course, wondering how to afford advertising. Thankfully,social media is a great tool for the small business owner.

Free tools, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+ can help you reach a vast customer base. However, it’s not enough to just join a social network and hope the people will come to you. Small business owners need to have a social strategy and they need to put thought into online interactions. Recently, Frank Eliason at Comcast shared four factors that can help the small business owner use social media.

1. Be Remarkable

The first step that Eliason gave for small business embracing social media is to be remarkable. In a fast-paced world, especially online, standing out can be difficult. The key is to be different. The same things that make you unique in person are the things that will make you unique in social media, so it can be helpful to share those with your online audience.

Consider the following when deciding how to be remarkable:

  • Let your customers’ words do the talking for you. It’s word-of-mouth advertising at its best.
  • Just like they would do in person, your employees can go the extra mile online. Be on top of customer service questions that get asked on Facebook or be available to interact online with your customers.
  • Your content will be what makes you stand out. Make sure it is interesting, credible and relatable.

Being remarkable requires more than simply having a presence. It’s about conveying how you are different from the competition.

2. Listen to Your Customers Everywhere, Not Just in Social Media

The success of every business owner comes down to good customer service. Validate customer concerns, honestly listen to them and consider their suggestions for building a better customer experience. Your customer is your lifeline, so keep them happy. By listening and then putting your existing resources to work, you can develop new, powerful and profitable ways of doing business. You may want to consider the following:

  • Focus groups. Gather a few customers together and ask them questions. Let them review a new product or get their feedback on a new pricing structure.
  • Ask for feedback. One thing many small business owners forget is to simply ask for feedback, which can give you some insightful information. Whenever you feel it’s worthwhile, send an email or ask customers to fill out a questionnaire.
  • Search for your business name. Social media provides an outlet for people to be bolder than they would in person. If a customer has a bad experience, they may be going online to talk about it. To gain this kind of insight, search all social platforms to find out what customers are saying about you and your business.

3. Engage with Your Customers

Using social media is about building relationships with your customers. Interact with your customers, get to know them, and let them get to know you. Some ideas to help engage with your customers include:

  • Have a community presence. Establish yourself in the online communities where your customers are already gathered. You could join industry forums or message boards.
  • Join a larger conversation. Joining communities or sites of larger brands is a great way to get insight into your customers’ way of thinking.
  • Learn about competitors. Observing your competition can help you learn a lot about customers. Concentrate on the buzz around campaigns or promotions to help you know how to better serve your customers.

4. Make it Easy for Your Customers to Have Conversations About Things Important to Them

When it comes to engaging and interacting, it’s all about what the customer finds interesting. Keep in mind that one customer can make a big difference, so you want to listen to all the conversations happening out there, good or bad. For example, Molly Katchpole protested against Bank of America’s $5 fee and it caught on. Just one customer complaint led to a public relations nightmare for Bank of America. Being involved and making it easy for customers to have conversations with you can help prevent these kinds of problems. Some ways to create conversations may include:

  • Be proactive. Get out there and create the conversation before someone else does. Talk about speaking engagements you may be involved in, customer reviews, or the process behind your product.
  • Interview customers. You can easily interview a few customers about their experience with your store or brand. Post that interview on social media and you may see an increase in submitted testimonials.
  • Create videos. A video is a fun and interactive way to get a conversation started. Make a video about your employees, your design process, or how your company contributes to the community. There are many ideas for fun videos that your customers will enjoy.



The Future of Social Media: 25 Experts Share Their 2015 Predictions

Social Media has cemented its hold on businesses as more and more marketers indicate that they are placing a high value on it and are wanting to master social tactics that effectively engage their audience. The past year has seen an increase in Social Media Marketing through countless studies, practices, industry trends and even some major acquisitions in the space. However, the exciting possibilities are yet to come as Facebook and Twitter announce potential “buy” buttons that help drive an even more personalized experience to consumers. Trends such as paid amplification, content directed to new wearable tech, native advertising are just some of the examples of what’s to come in 2015.

With the wide variety of trends ready to launch in 2015, we decided to reach out to experts and get their predictions for Social Media in the upcoming year.


1. Xavier Major, CEO of Popular Media Consulting, LLC – @xavier_major

Social media will change how we do business, marketing and sales with the continued improvement of socials ads and open graph searches like Facebook will learn more about their users for ad targeting. Social selling via native ads and open searches on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Linkedin will be the new trend as these platforms grow in 2015. Community management and customer service will move to social as it’s a cost effective way to handle questions, support issues and delight customers with high transparency.

2. Ty Swartz, CEO of Chief’s Touch Consulting – @ChiefsTouch 

Companies failing on social media will realize that social communication is a valid form of inbound marketing when they create content designed specifically to their customer personas. This along with targeted Facebook advertising will have previously unsuccessful small business social media communications seen and heard by qualified customers looking for companies offering personalized solutions.

3. Drew Larison, Social Media Marketing Director at Web Success Agency – @MrDrewLarison

Focus on mobile more than ever before. Every day social media apps are dominating the eyeballs of your customers. Make sure that you are on the platforms you need to be on and also make sure you are learning how to communicate well on those apps.

4. Reed Berglund, CEO of FullBottle – @FullBottlegroup

We are seeing early indications that rising social video platforms i.e. Vine are providing effective alternative to adwords and Facebook advertising. There are still attribution issues utilizing these platforms, but all the players involved (Twitter/Vine, Facebook/Instagram, WeChat, Line, KIK, and Snapchat) are working very hard to create infrastructure necessary for tracking attribution.

2015 will be the year of systems alignment across social video. This will enable small businesses to reduce their acquisition costs by leveraging influencer advertising at scale.

5. Jasmine Bina, CEO of J.B. Communications – @jbcomms

I think companies that are smart enough to find and reach their target audiences in niche social media sites will have big wins. It can feel like a risk to invest resources in a small, unproven social platform – but if your people are gathering there instead of Facebook or Twitter, then that’s where you need to be.

6. Andrew Herrault, Lead Strategist at Connective Insights – @ConnectiveSEO

Social media will become a larger focus for advertising investment, especially with the news that Facebook will now block free adverts. This will force businesses to focus energy on maintaining the ROI of social media, as opposed to merely observing the vanity metrics (reach, likes, etc). Vanity metrics are good, but ROI determines the viability of a sustainable marketing channel.

7. Kevin Deegan, CTO of – @ONisfun

As mobile continues to grow, it’s clear it is the future of social media. Young users crave social media that is more specific to their needs, and offers basic functions that are mobile-friendly, a need which niche apps readily meet. With need-specific apps growing in popularity over the last year, it’s obvious that 2015 will bring even more apps to quell even the quirkiest user desires.

8. Andrew Stephen, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business – @AndrewTStephen

In 2015 I expect to see marketers become more serious about measuring ROI from their social media activities. Facebook is introducing changes that will reduce post reach for brands unless marketers pay for higher reach. This will change how marketers assess the performance of their Facebook content, and that mentality will spill over into the other channels they use.

9. Andrew Schneider, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Online Amiga – @myonlineamiga

In 2015, social media is going to quickly become two connected, yet distinct, strategies. First, as platforms like Facebook adjust how overly promotional content is filtered, businesses will have to become more social on social media, engaging with fans instead of just speaking to them.

Secondly, the advertising platforms will become more competitive, with big and small businesses investing in at least test runs using the highly advanced targeting options. As usual, new platforms will emerge, but it will take a miracle for anything, new or old, to take over Facebook’s dominance.

10. Ashley Small, President and Founder of Medley, Inc – @AshleyRSmall

Social media continues to expand and change as the New Year approaches. One of the biggest changes to come is with Facebook. Facebook has confirmed that in January 2015, they will carefully view images and content coming from business pages, and if they feel they are not telling a story or engaging their audience and just posting “promotional” posts, than they will not be showing their posts as much as they have in the past. This means businesses have to have budgets for Facebook ads, this will help boost their post to receive a higher number of impressions.

In 2015, it’s all about paying to advertise on social media. With analytics to show you how your money is being spent, is up to the business to determine if paying for Facebook advertising will be worth it in the long run for their business plan.

11. Laurie Menekou, President of Conceptual Communications – @Lmenekou

BIGGER on the SEO scale. As Google + continues to be a major player in the social media world, I predict it will start to take over and be more important than Facebook. Our clients care about results driven social media strategies and increasing their SEO platform is key to that – we predict Google + becomes the new front runner.

12. Jacqueline Woerner, Social Media Manager at Emarsys – @Emarsys

2015 is the year that selling goes social – big time: with more sophisticated approaches to Scommerce and integrated social advertising that draws on multiple data sources, marketers step up their game in social selling and bringing social media ROI to the business. We’ve also seen a major push into anonymous apps and private messaging, a trend that will stick around and force brands to communicate with consumers on their terms.

13. Dave Vronay, CEO and Founder of Heard – @HeardTeam

There will be widespread consumer push-back on human data trafficking sites such that smart brands will demand that sites demonstrate “fair trade data” practices. In addition, consumers will move on from so-called anonymous sites to applications that offer real solutions for online privacy where the audience as a whole can be verified but none of the individual members can be identified. Marketers will have to incorporate this sort of thinking into their ad strategy.

14. Ali Din, Marketing consultant & CMO at dinCloud – @dinCloud

Interest in social media is undeniable. However, businesses are now going to struggle with the time, effort, and costs of participating and figuring out how to link it to leads or revenue. As these questions come up, tools that help measure the sales cycle will continue to grow in demand. Social media experts need to expand into lead generation experts that understand a broader scope of the sales funnel.

15. Ashley Paris, Research Analyst at SiriusDecisions – @ashesVv

Organizations will invest in social network software/content management enhancements to host social communities/forums aligned to unique customer and prospect challenges extending further than marketing, sales or service. Insights from active social forums are too important to entrust to changing algorithms of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Time and energy will shift away from spend discussions around “paid social” and “social advertising” and toward how to incubate a thriving proprietary social property, fostering interaction among communities of potential customers and advocates.

16. Andrew Caravella, VP of Marketing at Sprout Social – @andrewcaravella

Businesses will find ways to bring their brand’s social experience to all employees and better engage them as ambassadors, whether it’s a company of 200 or 20,000 team members. Beyond marketing teams with daily responsibilities, we will start to see activation efforts for smarter, stronger and more organized social engagement at the individual employee level.

17. John Ohara, SVP of Strategy at Giant Spoon – @johnmcklain

Brands will find richer territory in the next evolution of social content, fueled not only by mobile, but by a wider spectrum of connected devices and new media, triggered from even deeper consumer experiences. Think real-time wearable tech to track and work out with Lebron, virtually; a Snapchat aerial joyride transmitted from globally connected drones-all ways of broadcasting as a new content source. We need to expand our thinking and extend the canvas.

18. Lisa Parkin, President of Social Climber – @LisaMParkin

For some businesses, having social media accounts isn’t enough anymore. Many businesses are branching out and creating their own mobile app and increasing their mobile social media marketing. This is important, as 34 percent of cell internet users go online mostly using their phones, and not using some other device like a desktop or laptop computer. (Pew Research)

In 2015, social media will increase its steadily growing hold on mobile marketing, expanding businesses reach in that very active space.

19. Alfredo Ramos, General Manager of Pagemodo – @alfredoramosv

Social media will continue to be more closely integrated with day-to-day business practices. Many businesses will think social first when crafting a marketing plan or developing sales outreach strategies. In addition, businesses will continue to invest more of their marketing and strategy budgets toward existing and new social platforms, as well as social analytics. Specifically, as the organic reach of promotional content faces more challenges, paid placements will become essential in reaching potential customers via social media.

20. Seshu Madabushi, Founder & CEO of mKonnekt – @mKonnekt

In 2015 we predict action oriented improvements in the social media being a big factor – the likes of “Buy Now” in Twitter etc. Till date people are looking at the reach numbers in Facebook or retweets/favs in twitter – going forward whether there reach can be translated to sales figures. Last year we predicted the reach of videos and this year we will see the trend growing and that too Facebook videos

21. Kelsey Goeres, Social Media Associate at MyCorporation – @MyCorporation

With things like paid Facebook advertising becoming more prominent, social media will become more about earning revenue in 2015, as opposed to years passed when the main role of social outlets was to build brand awareness.

22. Erin Mulrooney, Digital Media Supervisor at ab+c Creative Intelligence – @erinmully

One of the biggest things to watch out for in social in 2015 is the rollout of Facebook’s advertising triforce. Start with Atlas, the Microsoft online ad measurement suite that Facebook purchased last year, combine it with LiveRail, a mobile video network purchased earlier this year, and add both to the massive audience platform Facebook maintains. With over 1 billion users, Facebook is setting themselves up to dominate with data, measurement and engaged ad delivery.

23. Hugo Pereira, Product & Digital Strategist at Talentsquare – @hugosbpereira

Social media will play a bigger influencing role in driving leads and customers. It’s becoming easier to analyze the ROI of sales that different social channels bring to both B2B and B2C businesses, therefore it’s highly predictable that businesses will invest more on broadcasting their influence and expertise in the field to drive more sales.

24. Rachel Miller, Chief Listener at Pipeliner CRM – rachelloumiller

2015 = Year of Transparency

No longer will companies be able to say one thing and do another. Engagement becomes crucial: right-time, not necessarily real-time; Aided by social media automation tools that identify new prospects then distribute curated content. Prioritizing engagement spurs changes in content creation. Businesses will no longer strive to push content out daily. Instead, they will focus on longer form content (stats show effectiveness here) that provides context, hard data and analysis.

25. Satya Krishnaswamy, Founder & CEO of NextPrinciples – @satyakri

With the introduction of the ‘buy’ button both on Twitter & Facebook, social commerce will truly get its wings. To ensure the most targeted offer on social for customers based on demographic & behavioral attributes, vendors will build cross channel consumer profiles. Customers will benefit with more relevant offers and companies will benefit with a more comprehensive customer profile across social and traditional channels.


10 Trends that will Impact Small Businesses in 2015

With less than a month left in the 2014, it’s time for small business owners to develop a plan to maximize their marketing efforts in the New Year. What will 2015 bring for small business owners? Here are 10 trends to keep an eye on as you develop your marketing plan.

1. Social media will continue to propel consumer spending. In 2014, both Twitter andFacebook began testing a new feature that will make it easy for users to buy products and services in just a few clicks. Both social media networks rolled out “buy” buttons, which appear alongside status updates and tweets, and give users the ability to make purchases without having to leave the network. In 2015, expect Twitter and Facebook to drive consumer spending in a major way. One huge advantage to the “buy” button for small businesses is the ability to attach concrete revenue metrics to social media messages.

2. Your friends influence your wallet. As your peers post about the latest products or services they bought, it’s sometimes hard not to be swayed. In 2015, expect your customers to be increasingly influenced by their peers’ purchasing habits. Pay attention to millennials — those born between 1981 and 2000 — on social media. According to a Harris Interactive poll conducted earlier this year, 68 percent of them were at least somewhat likely to purchase after seeing a friend’s post about a product or service.

3. New social media networks will rise, and others will fall. 2014 gave rise to a number of new and innovative social networks — including Yik Yak, an app that allows users to anonymously create and see posts within a 1.5-mile radius, and Ello, an ad-free social network that doesn’t sell your private information to third parties. Then there is Tsu, another social network that promises users a cut of its ad revenue based on how popular their posts are. These social networks presumably have risen to fix the perceived problems of major social networks like Facebook and Twitter including privacy and pervasive advertising. But will these social networks be around for the long haul? Time will tell.

4. Advertising on Facebook and Twitter will become an essential part of your marketing mix. As a small business owner, you may not be advertising on Facebook or Twitter yet. But in 2015, you may want to reconsider. Facebook continues to aggressively limit the number of posts your fans can see on your page. So the demand for promoted posts and ads will continue to grow. As with anything, increased demand will necessitate increased pricing. Facebook ad pricing already has gone up 10 percent since 2013. In 2015, expect this trend to continue. Advertising on Twitter will become a “must” for small business owners as they embrace the social network’s new advertising fee structure, which allows companies to pay for performance instead of paying for retweets, app installs and clicks.

5. Image-based social media will influence buying habits. Using images to influence consumer purchasing behavior is nothing new. By leveraging image-based social media networks like Instagram, which boasts over 200 million users, small businesses will be able to use compelling pictures and video to showcase their products and services. Pay particular attention to Instagram because the social network recently rolled out in-feed video advertising, which gives companies the opportunity to pay for 15-second video ads based on targeted metrics like age, gender and geographic location.

6. Publishing on LinkedIn will become more popular. If you haven’t yet tried LinkedIn’s publishing platform, explore it before the year’s end. In 2015, LinkedIn will continue to dominate among the business set. LinkedIn has quickly become a strong publishing resource populated with excellent content on business trends, insights and careers. You can use LinkedIn’s publishing platform to express your thoughts on these topics or to build your brand.

7. Content marketing will remain an important tool to spread the word about your business. Content marketing is a great way to reach your customers without aggressively selling to them. But it requires work. In 2015, take the time to explore it to determine how might benefit your business.

8. Social media will continue to drive customer service in 2015. Many major brands have been taken to task by irate customers on social media. What this means is that your customers have latitude to say what they want about your products and services. They can influence whether your product sells successfully. This is where social listening comes in. You need to track what’s being said about your brand on social media and respond to customer questions and issues in a timely manner.

9. Marketing to millennials will be essential. If you aren’t specially tailoring your marketing messages to millennials, you’re missing out. According to Leaders West Digital Marketing Journal, there are 76 million millennials in the United States, and they make up 27 percent of the population. They’re well-educated, with 63 percent having at least a bachelors’ degree. They are also major influencers, with 46 percent reporting that they count on social media when making purchases online.

10. Minorities’ purchasing power will increase. For small businesses, failing to recognize the growing buying power of minorities will have a negative impact on their bottom lines. According to an analysis of data conducted by USA Today, over 50 percent of U.S. cities now have majority non-white populations. And according to the U.S. Census, Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population have purchasing power that exceeds $1 trillion. That figure is expected to grow by 2017.


Small Business Internet Marketing Statistics in a Shocking Infographic

Infographic-Shocking-Smal-Business-Internet-Marketing-StatisticsSmall Business Internet Marketing Statistics in a Shocking Infographic.

Eight Tips to Boost Holiday Sales

If national forecasts prove accurate, the holiday season holds a welcome gift for retailers: the biggest jump in November and December sales since 2011. The National Retail Federation predicts an overall 4.1 percent sales boost this holiday season, with U.S. retailers expected to hire between 725,000 and 800,000 seasonal employees. Online sales totals are expected to increase between 8 percent and 11 percent over 2013 numbers.

With the holiday season expected to represent almost 20 percent of the U.S. retail industry’s total annual sales, small retailers need to get ready now, even if they have a bit more time this year. Bargain-hunting consumers plan to wait until Thanksgiving weekend to start their holiday shopping, according to research company NPD Group.

Here are eight tips for getting the most from the holidays:

Spruce up your website. Nearly 60 percent of consumers plan to do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year, making online the leading channel for holiday shopping, according to NPD. Women are more likely than men to shop online (62 percent vs. 57 percent), as are those with children at home.

Stay true to your values. Small retailers can’t beat big box stores on price, but they can strengthen their customer connections at the holidays, says Nicole DeBoom, chief executive of women’s activewear company Skirt Sports. “Ditch the sitewide or storewide 30-percent-off sale,” she says. Instead, try more focused promotions around core emblematic products. “Then package the promotion with the language that resonates with your community, giving your sale a theme that distinguishes you from the generic holiday sale,” she says.

Extend your hours. Online shopping is expected to represent more than $100 billion in holiday sales this year, but consumers will spend at least $500 billion more at brick-and-mortar retailers. They won’t do it in your store if it’s not open when they’re shopping. Consider opening early and staying open late during December.

Spread the cheer. People love freebies, so consider giving something away with certain purchases. Andrea Woroch, a consumer expert for website management company Kinoli, says holiday gifts can be alternatives to discounts. “Last year, Target did a great promotion that attracted lots of shoppers where they gave away a $5 gift card for select purchases,” she says. “This not only helped boost overall sales, but it helped boost sales of certain goods.”

Offer free shipping. Kinoli CEO Luke Knowles founded Free Shipping Day six years ago as a promotion for online retailers. Free shipping is the No. 1 promotion that shoppers respond to, he says. “If possible, offer deals on expedited shipping as we get closer to the holidays, as shoppers want to know they have options for last-minute shopping.” Make sure your shipping deadlines and stock levels are communicated clearly so customers don’t miss out on ordering in time.

Hire staff and focus on service. As a small business, personalized customer service is your best asset. “The holiday season is a stressful time, and having plenty of people responding to customer service inquiries and fulfillment requests is key to a positive customer experience and return business,” Knowles says.

Arrange some special deals. No, you can’t compete on price, but cost-conscious consumers will be looking for unique products and good deals this holiday season. Michele Loeper, marketing manager at fair-trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, likes doing one-day deep discount sales. “Also consider come-back offers. They can be especially enticing during those last-minute panic days leading up to the holiday,” she says. In the store, she makes sure to display some prewrapped grab-and-go items in categories like “foodie gifts” or “hostess gifts” that time-pressed shoppers can pick up on the way to a party.

Get organized. Eileen Mockus, CEO of home furnishings company Coyuchi, builds a seasonal calendar with every activity mapped out to the end of the year. “The holiday season goes all the way through the New Year, so make every day count,” she says. “Put together events, promotions, product introductions, shipping offers, e-mails, and other marketing offers. Plan ahead so the details are figured out and at the busiest time of year all you are focused on is flawless execution.”


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