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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