Not too many years ago, entrepreneurs and marketers had less to think about when it came to Black Friday, the infamous holiday deal day. Retailers simply made their deals available online or in person the day after Thanksgiving, or maybe a little earlier.

Fast forward to Christmas 2019. Top retailers like Walmart are kicking off their deals more than a month ahead of time. The retailer began online Black Friday sales for electronics, gaming, toys and more on October 25. 

It's partly an effort to give us more time due to the shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. But there's no denying Black Friday season keeps moving earlier. This year some entrepreneurs said Amazon Prime Day (July 15) actually motivated them to prepare for Black Friday, because the two events are so similar. 

The truth is that with the massive popularity of online shopping and brands eager to beat out competition, deals are already here in full force. Here are some ideas that should help make sure your company doesn't get left in the holiday dust.

Win on delivery options.

Know what's important to your audience from now through the holidays so you can deliver on those needs. People have less time this year but still want to get all their gifts bought and paid for. Shipping can be one area to focus on that will help you beat competitors. 

Do customers want fast shipping - such as one or two-day options? A recent Deloitte holiday retail and consumer study claims most online shoppers now prefer this. I know owners of both online and brick and mortar businesses who say their customers want multiple delivery choices, including in-store pickup. Others say free shipping is still highly popular. You have to offer, or at least consider offering, all of these options.

If you have a physical storefront with many local customers, it may be more simple to do the delivery yourself. Find a local logistics partner or rent your own delivery vans. Both can help speed up your shipping. 

Attract shopping crowds through a retail experience.

Not everything you do for the holiday season has to shout "discount" and "deal." At some point, many customers get shopping fatigue or feel frustrated by the crowds and noise. There are many timely tactics you can use to draw these shoppers in

Start with a fun, rejuvenating retail experience that highlights the season and accompanying festivities. I have a colleague who owns an outdoors/hiking/camping business. During the holiday season he lets customers relax in comfortable chairs and enjoy complimentary hot chocolate or apple cider. This puts people back in the holiday shopping mood. Even setting up a complimentary gift wrap station can set you apart from many big-box retailers. 

Try creating themed gift displays in your store so shoppers can instantly see where to go in-store for people on their gift list. Around those displays, plan experiences like a cooking demonstration or a try-me/buy-me sample station. 

Or, if you have an online store, create landing pages on your site that tie to gift guide sections with specific holiday festivities -- Christmas Eve game night, holiday meals, or an in-law survival plan. You can use humor and give helpful tips that go beyond just gift-giving to address those often stressful moments when shoppers hadn't actually made specific plans. 

Treat loyal customers.

Rather than feel rushed to reveal promotional deals, focus on your regular customer base by treating them to their own VIP holiday retail experience. Think about sending out handwritten, personalized holiday cards to key customers. Use a neutral or secular design if you're not sure of each customer's holiday practices. 

Think about adding in a special coupon to invite them to visit your physical or online store. You can start mailing the personalized holiday cards immediately because they'll get your customers' attention prior to the usual holiday cards that start filling up mailboxes.   

One entrepreneur I know holds a special shopping day for regular customers well before Black Friday each year. You can even use the aforementioned holiday cards as invitations. Make it an evening event or open your store a couple of hours earlier for these customers to enjoy special rates without the usual crowds. Add holiday music, finger foods, and refreshments to enhance the experience for these loyal customers.  

Offer bundles and deals.

Both brick-and-mortar and online stores can offer special discounts as long as the inventory process aligns with potential demand. Bundles are one strategy for holiday deals. You can provide a bundle that contains the same product or add accessories that accompany that product. Try combining products together into a gift basket or box. With each bundle option, shoppers can see that buying the bundle is a better deal than purchasing items separately.  

Published on: Nov 1, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.