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The Best Days for Holiday Sales: A Guide for Businesses

The Best Days for Holiday Sales: A Guide for Businesses
Credit: Otnaydur/Shutterstock

As any small business owner will tell you, holiday sales either make or break their bottom line. In fact, for some retailers, the holidays represent nearly 30 percent of their total yearly sales, according to the National Retail Federation. With the 2018 holiday season featuring 32 days – the longest possible period – between Thanksgiving and Christmas, now is the time for small businesses to prepare for the booming season ahead.

The five Saturdays in Decembers are expected to be among the busiest shopping days. However, thanks to a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence, shoppers will hit the stores and scour online purveyors throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 with consumers spending an average of $1,007.24.

With so much money on the table and no one-size-fits-all approach that works to draw in all customers, businesses need to up their game and figure out which days they should focus on for their holiday sales. To help small business owners hone their efforts, here's a rundown of the biggest sale days, their histories and which businesses they suit best.

According to the National Retail Federation, Black November is a term coined by a variety of retailers who offer Black Friday deals as early as November 1 in response to consumers wanting to get a head start on their holiday shopping.

In fact, some 40 percent of shoppers begin their holiday gift purchasing in October. Retailers can meet this demand by offering special deals – both online and in-store – on key holiday gifts, such as toys, electronics, and apparel.

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According to Visual Thesaurus, the day after Thanksgiving came to be known as Black Friday in the early 1960s, when Philadelphia police officers used it as a negative term to describe the city's holiday shopping traffic jams. The name stuck, and in the '80s, businesses put a positive spin on Black Friday by rebranding it as a day for stores to "get back in the black." [Check out the best Black Friday deals for small businesses in 2018.]

While larger merchants usually rule Black Friday with midnight (or earlier) openings and sales throughout the day, many small businesses offer in-store and online discounts. According to ShopperTrak, which monitors shopper visits to retailers, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the holiday season, seeing nearly 1.5 times more shopper traffic than Super Saturday, its closest competitor.   

Small Business Saturday is all about celebrating local merchants. Started by American Express during the 2010 holiday season, this sale day encourages consumers to "shop small" and give independent retailers a fighting chance in between the huge Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of larger competitors.

Small Business Saturday is typically geared toward promoting brick-and-mortar retailers, and it continues to grow in consumer recognition with 108 million shoppers spending $12.9 billion at small businesses across the country last year, according to a survey released by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business. [Are you ready for the holidays? Check out these 5 Small Business Saturday Survival Tips.]

About a decade ago, e-commerce businesses began noticing that sales increased on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when most Americans are back to work after the long weekend. In 2005, a marketing team at Shop.org, a branch of the National Retail Federation, officially coined the term "Cyber Monday," and by 2010, it had become the biggest online shopping day of the year.

Retailers that sell exclusively online love to run sales on Cyber Monday, but those that have brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations can also take advantage of this shopping day. Travel deals have become a big part of Cyber Monday, with airlines and travel sites offering bargain flights, and hotels and cruise lines promoting extra amenities and discounted packages.

Free Shipping Day is a floating promotional holiday in mid-December – this year, it falls on Friday, December 14 – that extends holiday sales, promotes new deals and captures the business of shopping procrastinators.

It was started in 2008 by internet entrepreneur Luke Knowles, who noticed that online shopping dropped off around December 10 since shoppers were concerned that orders placed any later would not be delivered on time (or came with exorbitant shipping fees). Knowles recognized that retailers could ship orders much later in the month and they would still arrive before Christmas.

For this sales day, merchants with an online presence offer free shipping without a minimum purchase, with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve for in-stock, ready-to-ship products. Retailers who meet these criteria can sign up to be included in the Free Shipping Day 2018 website, which promotes their offers to consumers on the 14th.  Some 1,000 merchants are expected to participate this year, including major retailers as well as smaller specialty shops.

Super Saturday is a name retailers use to describe the last full Saturday of shopping before Christmas. This year, it falls on Dec. 22, and ShopperTrak expects it to be the second busiest shopping day of the holiday season, given its proximity to Christmas.

Lots of last-minute shoppers are expected to hit big chain stores and small businesses alike looking for deals. Many retailers plan to offer promotional items, one-day sales, competitive pricing and extended hours to attract customers looking to check off those last few names from their gift lists.

In many parts of the world, the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day, is a national holiday and the biggest sale day of the year. Shopping centers, big-box stores and independent retailers slash their prices to clear out inventory. While it may never grow to be as popular as Black Friday in the states, many U.S. retailers, especially those looking to purge seasonal merchandise, drastically cut their prices on the 26th.

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.