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.

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