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It’s October ... time for ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night, right? Wrong. Think sleigh bells and shiny objects like holiday lights.

The winter holiday season triggers an exponential growth in online shopping volume. “Many e-commerce sites do 40 percent of their annual transactions during these holidays,” said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Marketing Group.

If you handle this demand correctly, the season can gift you with a heaping helping of new, year-round customers. If you don’t, you may watch future profits disappear right back up the chimney with the guy in the red suit.

Holiday Helpers

Below are some tips to make 2014 the holiday season that keeps on giving.

Plan thoughtfully. When should you start planning for the holidays? Caporaso suggests as soon as you've made your New Year’s resolutions in January. Once summer rolls around, you should be hammering out market strategy and ensuring employees are trained on holiday policies and procedures. “Consumers have a lot of outlets to choose from. This means they don’t have to tolerate poor customer service — and they won’t," he said.

The right employee training ensures that you can give customers the hassle-free experience they expect. Audit and monitor staff performance in this area to ensure that your policies carried out and support staff with ongoing education and mentoring. 

Go mobile. Your customers like to shop on the go. “This area is growing and growing. You need to have some sort of mobile strategy in place,” said Caporaso.

Last year consumers conducted nearly a quarter of Black Friday sales on their smart phones and tablets, with iOS devices ringing in more than $543 million of the total $691 million in online sales on those initial days of the holiday shopping season. 

Tell tales. Most e-commerce sites are out for volume during the holiday season after slashing prices and rolling out free delivery to compete for customers. Another option is to pair associated higher margin product options with lower margin products during the purchasing process, said Glenn Conradt of Global Marketing at CoreMedia. He explained:

There is no better way to achieve this than creating stories constructed around a collection of products. When products are combined together with rich media as part of a real-life user story, they do a much better job of addressing the practical and emotional needs of the shopper.”

This can be anything from providing instructions on how to choose the perfect gift or instructing shoppers on how to create a slam-dunk holiday meal. “When presented in this way, the option of “shopping the story” and having an option to add all the products to the cart is compelling,” Conradt said.

Collect insights. Shopping over the holiday season provides insight into the interests and buying behavior of consumers. Conradt said e-commerce sites should have a plan to capture specific information that would be useful in segmenting your customers (or refreshing their existing segmentation) and then follow up with personalized offers based on their segmentation. "Make sure that you do testing on a sample to ensure that you are hitting the mark,” he added.

Get it right. Your goal during the holiday season is to provide customers with such great service and products they morph into a loyal year-round shopper, said Caporaso. Customers need to feel like the item they purchased was worth it, said Conradt, who also noted:

Many products purchased over the holiday season will never be used or not fully used. This is particularly true of electronics or appliances.A follow up email with a video associated with how to use the product or a summary of useful information sourced from comments left by customers purchasing similar products or the offer of support though a customer service line can build trust beyond the simple decision to purchase and turn a shopper into an advocate.”

Listen. Use social media to your advantage. But using social media isn’t just about blasting out messages, it’s also a forum that you should use to listen to your customers. It’s the perfect opportunity to see what you’re doing right — and wrong, said Caporaso. Ultimately you need to listen to more than cash registers ringing to keep customers after the holiday season.

Title image by Paul J Everett  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.