Despite economic tension, e-commerce is currently embracing its biggest fourth quarter yet.


Online retail sales rose 20.7 percent on Black Friday and more than 30 percent on Cyber Monday, according to IBM Coremetrics. In total, consumers are expected to spend between US$ 92 billion and US$ 96 billion online this holiday season.

This is not only because 33 percent more new shoppers are flocking online, but because seasoned consumers know the advantages of shopping online: researching the perfect pick in advance, comparing pricing and inventory, and leveraging their spending power to get the items they want -- at the best prices.

Basically, consumers now call all the shots, and retailers must put them at the center of their decision making if they are going to survive The Age of the Customer.

But with all the billions of consumers who have traded in hour-long waits in line for one-click express shipping, five distinct online shopper types have emerged and are setting the stage and standard for website experiences:

1. Bargain Hunters

These shoppers are proud to admit they never purchase anything at regular prices; when it comes to half off sales, they’re already ten steps ahead of the rest. While Millennials are considered the thriftiest of the lot, more than half of all U.S. adults admit that they’re more price-conscious now than they were a year ago (not surprisingly). Yet there’s money to be made from their frugality, once you know what they’re looking for.

The sweet spot for Bargain Hunters is somewhere between 20 and 40 percent off the original price, so offer a range of holiday discounts that either match or exceed that. Make sure your seasonal sales are prominently displayed on your homepage; test various layouts, colors and styles to see what garners the strongest response. Use visitor profile data to promote products based on recent browsing habits or shopping cart additions.

2. Online Shopping First-Timers

While e-commerce is commonplace for most consumers these days, there are still some folks who are diving in for the very first time. Accustomed to face-to-face interactions, they require a high level of customer service. They’re also hyper-aware of issues like identity theft and online scams, and probably don’t even have a Facebook profile.

With a little extra effort and perseverance (not to mention TLC), you can make these newbies feel safe, comfortable and secure. Adding security seals to your checkout page is an obvious one; be sure you have clear, concise and easy payment instructions, so first-timers know exactly what to expect. Even adding consumer reviews can boost confidence -- online shoppers trust peer product reviews nearly 12 times more than manufacturer descriptions.

3. Tactile Shoppers 

Capturing the realm of the senses on the Internet is a challenge, but these shoppers are ready to rise to the occasion. They demand high quality, in high resolution. Even though they can’t actually poke, prod, shake or squeeze the merchandise, they want to come as close to an in-store experience as possible.

How can you make dollars out of sense when it comes to a touchy-feely Tactile Shopper? Appeal to their discerning eye. Almost 50 percent of online customers cite 360-degree product views as crucial to their decision making.

Providing various color options and hi-res photos that show texture and pattern are both excellent ways to grab the Tactile Shopper’s attention. Lastly, offer free returns -- 60 percent of consumers refuse to shop online if they can’t return an item that just isn’t right.

4. Inspiration Seekers

These shoppers have trouble trusting their own instincts when it comes to finding the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. Forever searching, they need tons of feedback and peer-related information. In short, they need a muse to provide inspiration.

What can you do to put these natural followers in the lead? Targeted product recommendations based on aggregated customer data like item affinity (“If You Like This, Try…”) and visitor affinity (“Others who bought this, also bought that…”) are a big help to Inspiration Seekers.

Email marketing is another great way to give them ideas; 80 percent of online shoppers are influenced by email promotions. Social sharing is a no-brainer: shoppers who see a friend’s activity on a retail site are 57 percent more likely to also buy from that site.

5. Last-Minute Stragglers

There are a few of these in every family, office or circle of friends. While some people hate to shop, others are just too busy. No matter why they’ve waited so long, now they’re in a rush -- and it’s up to you to get those gifts where they need to be on time.

To reduce time-ridden panic, Last-Minute Stragglers must know exactly what’s in stock, and that it can be delivered within the time frame they need (you know, like yesterday …). If you sell out of certain items, mention that on your product pages and provide customer alerts when a new shipment comes in.

Make shipping details and delivery charges easy to find: for example, if you offer next-day or Saturday service, have that info prominently displayed as well. Ship-to-store pickup is another useful option if you have physical outlets along with a web presence.

E-commerce and holiday shopping go together like partridges and pear trees. So now is the time for you to prime your e-commerce for these shoppers, test it out again and again, and use your insight and findings to power your website all the way to Cyber Monday 2013.

Image courtesy of Digital Storm (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in reading another take on holiday shopping? Try Diane Buzzeo's Holiday Promotion Checklist: Seven Factors Your Deal Needs to Have