We’re round­ing the bend of the “12 days of shop­ping” I started last week. So far, we’ve seen a 12-year-old arrested for open­ing his Game Boy early in addi­tion to plenty of top-tier retail best prac­tices from large and small alike. I loved the time-sensitive offers and “gen­tle” reminders that we have to buy NOW, the always spot-on Ama­zon pro­mo­tions that seam­lessly cut through the clut­ter that is my inbox, the small busi­nesses with big busi­ness store­fronts, and the brands that dove into the omnichan­nel approach.

Like I said in part 2 of this shop­ping series, there was far more bril­liant than bah hum­bug this year, even for last-minute shop­pers like me. And as I’ve said in my last two posts, I’m hit­ting the sites and the stores right up until Decem­ber 24. My list is get­ting shorter, sure, but the offers are get­ting more intense, and I’m primed to make this last lap. Let’s shop.

#Christ­masShop­ping day 6: okay stumped, need easy gifts for a bunch of peo­ple. I know! #ibooks I can even make them arrive on #Christ­mas­Day

It’s the 2.0 of the gift card world: dig­i­tal gift­ing. Gone are the days of toss­ing a plas­tic gift card for a book store or restau­rant into an enve­lope and call­ing it Christ­mas. Today’s retail­ers are going high tech, per­son­al­iz­ing, and shift­ing the per­cep­tion of gift cards from “thought­less” to “thought­ful” in a click. No gift on Decem­ber 24—or even Decem­ber 25? Dig­i­tal cards are the ulti­mate solu­tion, and with their mas­sive boom this year, there’s truly one for everyone.

For me this year, it was iBooks. I went into my iTunes store, selected the denom­i­na­tions, entered a mes­sage to the recip­i­ents, and even chose when I wanted the gift deliv­ered. When they open their gifts—and their email—on Christ­mas Day, my present will be wait­ing with­out the has­sle, the ship­ping fees, or the fear that they already have it. It’s one-size-fits-all for both the gifter and the giftee.

The ben­e­fits to the retailer? Plenty—from cut­ting pro­duc­tion costs and elim­i­nat­ing the waste asso­ci­ated with tra­di­tional gift cards, to man­ag­ing cus­tomer ser­vice issues asso­ci­ated with loss and theft, to enabling and even incen­tiviz­ing last-minute gift­ing. What else can you order up when you’re in planes, trains, and auto­mo­bile mode, hours or even min­utes before the gift exchange starts? Dig­i­tal gift­ing is a no-brainer from small and large busi­nesses alike. And with mobile wal­let use on the rise, it’s likely to keep get­ting bigger.

So, other than iTunes, who’s gone the way of dig­i­tal gift­ing? Every­one from tween and teen favorites like Jus­tice and For­ever 21, to restau­rants and fast food chains, movie net­works, and even some unex­pected entrants like Groupon, Dis­ney World, Celebrity Cruises, and Face­book. Don’t want to give a “cash” gift card? Buy an expe­ri­ence, con­tribute to a long-term goal, or make a dona­tion. Dig­i­tal gifts come in count­less forms and pre­sen­ta­tions, and there’s no doubt you’ll find some­thing that’s just right.

Another pur­chase #suc­cess for the last-minute shopper.

#christ­masshop­ping day 7: going #old­school hit­ting the @StanfordShop mall, fac­ing crowds, but not w/o @simonmalls deals app (@bose!) in hand

I went to the mall. We’re get­ting close, I needed a few things, and I actu­ally packed it up and drove over. After spend­ing a few min­utes get­ting up close and per­sonal with a horde of fel­low crunch-time buy­ers, I reached for my trusty com­pan­ion in this shop­ping experiment—my smartphone—and pulled up the Simon Malls app. It immediately—and accurately—found my mall, pro­vided easy-to-use maps so I could stream­line my trip, and deliv­ered real-time deals for select stores.

As I strolled past the Bose store, a great deal popped up: $150 off a Wave music sys­tem III. In I went, phone in hand and a great gift—at a great price—in my sights. It couldn’t have been easier.

Like Simon Malls, plenty of retail­ers have begun suc­cess­fully lever­ag­ing apps and other dig­i­tal and mobile engage­ment tac­tics in their brick-and-mortar loca­tions. Cart­wheel by Tar­get is get­ting a tremen­dous amount of buzz right now for doing just that. Down­load the app and, as Tar­get explains, “It’s like a sale that just fol­lows you around”—a sale to the tune of more than $26 mil­lion glob­ally since its late spring 2013 launch.

Cart­wheel encour­ages the in-store/mobile con­nec­tion. The app lets shop­pers self-select mas­sive savings—sometimes as much as 50 percent—on up to 10 prod­ucts from among hun­dreds, save them to their phone, and present a sin­gle bar­code at check­out for instant dol­lars off. Want more deals? The app con­nects to Face­book, so share away and you’ll earn addi­tional slots in your Cart­wheel. For the truly shop­ping savvy, Cart­wheel works in con­junc­tion with sales, pro­mo­tions, coupons, and Tar­get RED­card dis­counts, so the sav­ings can add up fast.

Lastly, and in that crossover vein, the ques­tion of in-store Wi-Fi seems to been a hot but­ton topic this hol­i­day sea­son. The Stan­ford Shop­ping Center—where I was shopping—offers free Wi-Fi to cus­tomers. Many Tar­gets do as well. It’s a con­ver­sion strat­egy, plain and sim­ple. By the time a shop­per enters your store, they’re already on the path to con­ver­sion. Con­tinue the dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence in-store and your con­nec­tion to the con­sumer never stops. If you can keep them hooked, keep them engaged, and keep your brand front-and-center when they are actively con­sid­er­ing and buy­ing, you’ve all but sealed the deal.

In my first “12 days of shop­ping” post, I set a chal­lenge to the retail com­mu­nity: “con­vert me!” I expected to be dis­ap­pointed, delighted, and surprised—and I was. Have I con­verted? You bet. The bril­liant far out­weighed the bah hum­bug and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of well-planned opti­miza­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion strate­gies result­ing from the desire of retail­ers to test, test, and test again when it mat­tered most made for a truly inno­v­a­tive, truly com­pelling hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son that I’m happy to be part of. That bodes well for 2014 when, no doubt, these same retail­ers will take it to the next level and beyond.

Think I’m done? Not even close—we’ve still got days until Christ­mas! But, for now, I’ll be tak­ing to Twit­ter with my rants and raves emerg­ing from the depths of last-minute shopper-dom. Check out what I’m buy­ing, where I’m buy­ing it, and, if you’ve still got a few gifts that need getting—or are kick­ing around a pro­mo­tion you’ve still got in the works, retailers—feel free to tweet at me and ask.

Enjoy the shop­ping and, even more so, enjoy the hol­i­days with every­one on your gift list. Here’s to a suc­cess­ful year ahead!

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