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Last year, customers turned to e-Commerce retailers in record numbers for their holiday shopping -- outpacing forecasts with a 25 percent increase in online sales. According to eMarketer, 2011’s e-Commerce boost warranted a 2012 online shopping prediction of US$ 224 billion, up more than 15 percent from 2011. With the gifting season creeping closer, it’s time for e-Commerce retailers to get their holiday promotion strategies into shape. 

Whether it’s targeting a specific audience, or tapping in to what they expect out of a shopping experience, there are seven inherent attributes to any rewarding holiday promotion. With 2012 poised to be the year of the omni-channel consumer, a few email-blasted coupons come November will definitely not suffice. 

Before kicking off any promotion, make sure that your initiative fully addresses each of these seven characteristics to ensure customer and conversion success.

1. Know What You Want to Achieve

Promotions are a means to multiple ends, whether it’s increasing your newsletter contact list to bulking up your average order value. While it’d be nice if one promotion could accomplish all of those goals at once, it’s highly unlikely. As a result, it’s most effective to focus your efforts on one. Once you have a defined objective, you can allocate the time and money needed to deliver a strong business-boosting promotion.

2. Zone in on a Target Audience

Discovering your target audience is one of the most important steps when planning any promotion strategy. Without a clearly defined target, your sales become unfocused and your resources are wasted.

When defining your brand’s model customer, familiarize yourself with your audience’s buying behavior. For example, are they more inclined to buy if next-day shipping is an option, or if there’s a free gift incentive? Also consider where your target interacts with your company most, and position your offer accordingly -- be it on Twitter, via email or on your homepage. Once you discover what drives your consumer’s purchases and where your brand’s visibility is at its highest, you can move forward.

3. Make Your Call to Action Obvious

No matter how interactive or aesthetically appealing your promotion, an unambiguous call to action is what ultimately moves customers to click. It can be as straightforward as, “Like us on Facebook to access the discount code,” or “Forward this email for a chance to win a gift card,” as long as the “what” and “where” are clear. The briefer your promotion copy, the more likely you are to turn one-time browsers into habitual buyers.

4. Spark Interest

While often the hardest part, building interest in your promotions is essential to their success. Without it, your deal is guaranteed to flop. Originality is key to generating and holding audience interest. Stay away from the standard deals that you already know will be popping up on every e-Commerce site this holiday season.

Instead of offering the traditional 10 percent off or buy one-get-one deal, promote your competitive edge. If your business has the fastest shipping times at the lowest cost compared to your competitors, promote that via social media, email marketing or on web banners. As December edges closer, speedy shipping is something shoppers will want to know about and reward you for. If using a generic deal is a must, make sure to put a new spin on it to break through the clutter.

5. Stress the Time Factor

Running the same promotion over and over throughout Q4 will compel shoppers to look elsewhere for something new. To retain and convert the browsers, you need to provide something new that they won’t find on competitors’ sites. Make shoppers feel that your offer is one they can’t refuse because it probably won’t be live tomorrow. Plan multiple promotions that you can rotate between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve to keep your specials fresh.

6. Generate Enthusiasm

Shoppers do their homework long before Cyber Monday so they know where to find the best deals when the big day arrives. Advertise your promotions in conjunction with consumer’s research schedules to make sure that your website it on the top of their shopping lists. In today’s digital landscape, this is a relatively easy feat. Include information about upcoming offers on your homepage, or post sneak peeks to your Twitter and Facebook followers.

7. Give Them What They Want

Don’t assume that your audience’s shopping expectations haven’t altered since last year’s holiday season. Whereas in 2011 they may have wanted discounts or “buy one get one” deals, this year free shipping might be a higher priority.

Look back at promotion results from earlier this year to gain some insight into what customers want now. Note which promotions boosted sales and which had little effect. In order for your offer to be successful, you have to fulfill shoppers’ demands, or else they’ll turn to a competitor that will.

Image courtesy of Elena Schweitzer (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Another article by Diane Buzzeo you might be interested in: 

-- Triggered Email Marketing:  Why and How to Put Big Data to Work