— EXPANDED HOURS FOR SHOPPERS WHO CAN'T WAIT TO HIT THE MALL: Stores often open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving Day, which is typically the biggest shopping day of the year. But the Black Friday openings crept earlier and earlier over the past few years. Then retailers such as Macy's Inc. began opening at midnight. This season, some stores have expanded their hours even more. Sears, Toys R Us and other stores are opening on Thanksgiving evening to grab those who want to shop after their turkey dinner. Wal-Mart is starting Black Friday sales at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year.
— MORE SHIPPING AND RETURN OPTIONS FOR SHOPPERS WHO COVET CONVENIENCE: About 44 percent of retailers are offering free shipping this year, a jump from 12.5 percent last year, said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org, the National Retail Federation's digital retail division that tracks retailers' online offers. And UPS said retailers also are working to make returns easier by including return labels in packages or providing a link online that customers can use to print labels.
-ORDER ON LINE AND PICK UP IN STORE: Additionally, some stores, including Best Buy Co., Toys R Us and Wal-Mart, are offering customers the option of ordering online and then picking up merchandise in stores.
— LAYAWAY PLANS FOR FINANCIALLY-STRAPPED SHOPPERS: Shoppers have typically been charged a fee for layaway programs that allow them to pay over a period of weeks. But this year, Sears and discount chain Kmart, both divisions of Sears Holdings Corp., ditched the fees, which could be as much as $10 for 12 weeks. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. lowered layaway fees from $15 to $5.
— PRICE MATCHING FOR SHOPPERS WHO ARE ADDICTED TO DEALS: Small mom-and-pop stores long have offered to match the cheaper prices that customers find online, but this year big merchants such as Target and Best Buy will do the same. It's an attempt to combat the growth of "showrooming," when customers look at merchandise in stores but buy it cheaper online.
—UPDATED SHOPPING APPS FOR SMARTPHONE-TOTING SHOPPERS: Shopping apps for smartphones and tablets have been around since shortly after the iPhone debuted in 2007, but this year retailers are beefing them up. For instance, Macy's is launching a Black Friday portion of its mobile app, which highlights specials and other deals not advertised elsewhere. It also will have maps and information about where in each store Black Friday deals can be found.