It’s already starting: the cart overloads, the overabundance of “save for laters,” and possibly even the pre-explosion traffic boom—a.k.a. window shopping 2.0.

The holiday shopping season is here and it’s expected to be even bigger than last year, when consumers dropped $1.57 billion on Black Friday and nearly $2 billion on Cyber Monday.

As you read this, millions of retailers are in lockdown mode, solidifying painstakingly detailed promotional calendars, quadruple checking inventories and projections, and lining up a host of consistent cross-channel marketing messages.

But it’s more than that. The holidays are—and should be—your best time to try out new things, test innovative promotions, and be more responsive than ever to the ups and downs that ensue. Plain and simple: don’t fear taking chances during the holidays.

Meet your (next great?) customer

Holiday-only shoppers typically come in through special promotions, offers, or social referrals. Although they can drive the numbers up around core shopping days, they’re incredibly price sensitive and significantly less engaged from the start.

While it’s tougher to convert these shoppers into all-season buyers, they’re already here and they’re already shopping so it’s inherently less costly to try and keep them versus attracting and converting new ones. On average, 40 percent of e-commerce revenue comes from returning and repeat customers who make up just 8 percent of all visitors. Individual retailers are spending upward of 80 percent of their interactive marketing budgets on mass acquisition to drive new customers. Look for opportunities to hook seasonal shoppers and bring them back throughout the year and push to get them into that all-important 8 percent.

Not only is this conversion critical to your year-round success, but it makes a difference for holiday 2014, too. Repeat and return buyers account for even more revenue during the holiday shopping season, even during slow economic periods. Shopper revenue per visit (RPV) averages a 17 percent increase during the holidays versus nearly 30 percent for returning purchasers.

Test, test, and test—even when business is booming

Because of the time and price sensitivity of holiday shoppers paired with the similar shifts from your all-season shoppers, testing during the holidays just makes sense. All too often sites are reluctant to test, fearing a less-than-positive response could send their sales off on an irreparable plummet. That’s just not the case.

Use the looming December 24 deadline to your advantage and test unique and evergreen promotions. Give your emails an overhaul for a week or two and include a shopping cart reminder and proactive push, try different shipping offers, experiment with “value” versus “discounted” in your communications, or offer a “buy one, get one” instead of 50 percent off. You could even revamp your paid search strategies to drive to specific product categories—see where it goes.

SmileyCookie, a site that sells customizable cookies, tested five value propositions during one of its busiest periods:

  • Next business day shipping
  • $5 off a future purchase
  • $6.99 flat rate ground shipping
  • Free shipping on $40 or more
  • Cookies made fresh and hand iced for you

The winner—next business day shipping—yielded a 41 percent increase over the site average in terms of per visit value. What’s more, though, with the average conversion across all promotions hovering around 9 percent, SmileyCookie likely didn’t lose business through its testing but, instead, maintained the status quo for the majority of the promotional period and gained incredible insights that dramatically impacted its bottom line.

The key takeaway is this: what worked one year might not work the next. A special promotion or powerful “value” platform could miss in a year that the economy takes a turn. Make sure your message isn’t leaving money on the table when it matters most.

Be responsive to trends

Stay on top of the numbers emerging from your tests and be responsive. Start with paid search trends—during the holiday shopping period, conversion rates spike. Check your analytics, identify high converters, and bids to get more clicks. Top that off with better performing keywords from last year as well as those emerging in real time and you’ll be able to immediately harness some of the more unexpected power of the season. Similarly, as holiday shopping traffic sources doubled between 2011 and 2012, there will likely be more referral points this season than ever before. Keep a close eye on everything, including social platforms, affiliate sites, and display ads as well as sources you may have never considered.

In that vein, don’t forget about mobile. For sites optimized for mobile, up to 25 percent of visitors came in through phones, tablets, and eReaders (versus those that aren’t, which clocked in under 10 percent). Not surprisingly, 2013 is expected to be record breaking when it comes to mobile commerce, making this relatively new funnel even more critical. Whether or not you’re fully optimized for mobile, it’s essential to monitor and respond to the traffic and the trends emerging from your smartphone and tablet users. They’re receptive to “special” and they’re primed to buy—it’s an unparalleled combination.

Lastly, there’s the perennial lurker: weather. Track the weather and geotarget spots across the country accordingly. Has a snowy winter left prospective buyers hunkered down at home, unable to get to a brick-and-mortar location? Are there regionally specific communications you can push out to pull in a diverse group of buyers? Appeal to their needs and immediate conditions and see if you can draw new buyers.

And don’t forget to make note for next year and, depending on your site, potentially for Back to School 2014. August and September are second to the December holidays in terms of sales, and their core shoppers look surprisingly similar.

Have a “sidelined” idea or two

We’re being confident. They aren’t backup ideas, they’re “sidelined” ideas and special promotions. They’re ready to come into the game if your star isn’t performing (or overperforms and depletes inventory).

Testing and being responsive to real-time trends also means having a backup plan. A few promotional strategies tucked away can always be revisited when a tried and true marketing campaign doesn’t get the same results as in years past, or when a newcomer goes south. 1-800Flowers was the first online retailer to build a social store within Facebook—but during Valentine’s Day, it just didn’t convert consumers as they’d expected. So what did they do? They pushed promotions and a direct-to-purchase mechanism within their newsfeeds. The result? Success!

And, of course, there’s the need to be responsive and nimble when it comes to the unexpected trends. What will be the next Cabbage Patch doll? Keep an eye on sleeper products from day one. Sometimes they’re expected, sometimes they come out of left field. Either way, one toy or game can truly define an entire season of sales, and you’ve got to keep your eye out for those must-haves.

The pumpkins are packed away and the lights are coming out. Are you ready? Set your sights high and make sure you’re ready to go now so you can sit back, relax—and continue to test, optimize, and respond—straight through December 24.