For anyone scratching their head and wondering why we’re bringing this up just days after the Fall equinox, read these words of wisdom from Michael Klein, Adobe’s Director of Industry Strategy:

“At this point in time everybody is locked and loaded in many shapes and forms. If you haven’t already had a launch date of September or October, you’re probably late for this holiday season.” (CMO.com)

Now, if you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a small business marketer with a good deal more agility than a company like Adobe. So don’t panic if you’re not “locked and loaded” just yet – but this is definitely the time to get moving.

So where should you start? The first thing is to think about what kind of business you have. Do you offer your products or services for sale through a web store on your site? Do you take orders by phone or email and then fulfill them? Or maybe you maintain your website as an online marketing tool for your brick and mortar store. Read on; we have all kinds of advice for a successful holiday season.

1. I Have A Web Store
A recent eMarketer study projects that holiday sales for US retail ecommerce will be up 16.8% over 2011. By and large, they’re flocking to the web to find the best price available, locate hard-to-find gifts, and avoid crowded stores for a more relaxed experience. What’s the takeaway? If you want a piece of that pie, you better make sure your online shopping experience delivers on all three fronts.

First, offer the best pricing available. It’s far easier to open a new browser window than it is to drive to a different store, so it’s much more important for online retailors to be competitive in price. Second, offer shoppers something they can’t find elsewhere. This obviously depends on your business, but adapt it to your product or services however you can. The third – and possibly most important – element here is the experience. Shoppers are coming to you for a better experience than they will have in a store, so think about how you can deliver the best service possible online.

Do this by making sure your site is user-friendly, attractive, and simple, without a lot of clutter. It’s also becoming more and more important to optimize your web store for mobile and tablet shopping. A tip: if your web store relies on Flash, it might be time for a redesign. iPads and iPhones will account for a huge part of mobile purchasing this season, and they are not compatible with Flash. Better yet, if you have the resources, have mobile and tablet apps designed in addition to your mobile-friendly website.

Perhaps the most crucial thing for online retailers to consider is their shipping and return policies. A lot of customers enjoy the instant gratification of shopping in person, so try to approximate that as much as you can. Can you streamline your system in order to offer same day shipping? Also, bear in mind that free shipping is pretty much expected during the holiday season, so don’t be the only one not offering it.

2. I Offer Services/Products Online, But Don’t Have A Web Store
This is a tough spot to be in during the holiday shopping season. However, there are still ways to make 2012 your best selling season yet. Start by figuring out what kind of deals you can offer your customers. As Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester said to CMO.com, “The “offer genie” is not going back in the bottle. It is something that consumers expect.”

Next, get an email marketing campaign ready. With all the special events bombarding people’s inboxes during this season, they don’t have to go looking for a deal – they’re coming to them. Make sure your message is among them! Keep the offer simple, the design attractive, and the content engaging.

Finally, take your marketing to your social media channels (you do have those set up, right?). Last year, 57% of consumers did some holiday shopping activity online through social media (eMarketer). Even though you don’t sell through your website, you can still offer deals to your online community through Facebook, Twitter, etc.

3. I Have a Brick and Mortar Store
Never fear – you can absolutely still succeed this holiday season with a little creativity and technological evolution.

The advantage that brick and mortar stores have over virtual-only is the social behavior of humans. People want to share experiences with each other, and they like to speak to someone face to face about products. “Using digital marketing for support, bricks and mortar shopping can survive and even thrive in a time of digital shopping by creating real life experiences that can’t be replicated online.” (Social Media Explorer)

Depending on your level of resources, the “using digital marketing for support” caveat in the quote above could refer to a variety of tactics. The most basic being email marketing and social media (see the advice for group #2 above), to more advanced ideas like a mobile app that offers reviews and testimonials for customers to browse while shopping in your store.

The human component of the shopping experience is all about service. Give customers individual attention, personalized recommendations, thoughtful advice, and maybe special perks like in-store-only promotions or maybe even a glass of Champagne while they shop.

How have you prepared for this upcoming holiday shopping season? We’d also love to hear about your creative ideas that have worked in the past!

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