So the highly anticipated eclipse is over. Kids are back at school. And the last few days of summer are inviting you to squeeze in just a few more pool parties and picnics.

And guess what?

It’s time to start planning for the winter holiday season – smart retailers plan now for the holiday shopping Season.

Retailers Plan Now for Holiday Shopping Season

Without a doubt, retailers view the end of year holidays as extraordinarily important. They account for roughly 90 percent of all holiday spending, based on the most recent data from the National Retail Federation (NRF).

Holiday Spending Totals In Billions, 2016-2017

What’s more, consumers are eager to buy. More than half of holiday shoppers start to research and plan their gifts in October or earlier, NRF data shows. By Halloween, about 33 percent of shoppers have already picked up presents for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve and other year-end celebrations.

Then it’s a blur: Black Friday 2017 falls on Nov. 24, followed by Small Business Saturday, No Clever Name For It Sunday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Free Shipping Day (Dec. 15).

Connect With Customers

Companies should do whatever it takes to connect with customers as they’re going through their holiday shopping routines. That means helping them save both time and money by offering relevant, just-in-time deals and promotions.

Ideally, companies will embrace the holistic concept of better brand experiences. As Arke VP of Strategy Margaret Wise said, “Companies have to address not only customer satisfaction, but customer effort — ease of the cognitive time, physical, and emotional efforts associated with the experience.”

To offer the best brand experiences to your customers, you have to offer relevant interactions, Wise explained. Businesses have moved beyond “moment marketing” to “mindset marketing,” which all ties back to relevance. While technology is an enabler of those experiences, it’s better to think of it as a tool rather than a silver bullet.

Technology is only meaningful when it helps clients meet the goals they have mapped in a thoughtful, comprehensive strategy. And today, that strategy increasingly revolves around experiences.

Holiday Dream: Seamless Experiences

How can retailers infuse a little magic into holiday shopping? Consider partnering with other businesses whose products or services complement your own. By giving customers opportunities to move seamlessly from a purchase to another experience at a related merchant nearby, you build serendipity as well as relevancy into their normal shopping routines.

Consider offering customers the ability to earn rewards through cross-linked offers linked to the use of a credit card or app.

Apps enable retailers to connect with target customers through the delivery of personalized notifications about sales, deals, or holiday promotions.

Design an intuitive, frictionless user experience, with as few steps as possible leading to the desired outcome. The easier it is to make a purchase, the more likely it is that the purchase will be made.

“A great customer experience begins with the proper understanding of your customers. The only way to gain that knowledge is to step into their shoes. Do whatever you can to make holiday shopping fun and engaging,” said Arke Chief Marketing Technology Officer Chris Spears.

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Mobile Matters This Holiday Season

Sometimes the most obvious truths are worth repeating: it’s a mobile-first world. As Salesforce notes:

“The 2016 holiday season represented the first year ever where peak traffic to retail sites was mostly mobile, with 52 percent of all shopping visits happening on phones. Mobile surged during Cyber Week, capturing 53 percent of all traffic, up from 44 percent in 2015. Even more important for retailers, shoppers are buying on mobile too. Last season, mobile order share was up to 31 percent from 25 percent in 2015.”

Mobile is expected to play an even bigger role in 2017, which makes it essential for retailers to adopt a mobile-first approach.

Start, once again, by stepping into the shoes of your customers.

  • What are they doing on their mobile devices?
  • What kinds of marketing campaigns align to those behaviors?

Mobile Strategies for Brand Excellence

Optimize your email for mobile and provide location based store information when your email is opened.

Remember, mobile shoppers want an uncomplicated experience. Make your mobile site easy to use, fast and informative. Keep everything as simple as possible.

Work with your developers to modernize and slim down your mobile interface. Shoppers appreciate a clean, effective design that lets them quickly get in and out with their purchases.

Try to include interactive features and clear, interesting, informative images to guide customers through the shopping experience. And provide all the information necessary to help mobile consumers make purchasing decisions, including detailed specifications and feedback from trusted third party sources to validate product purchases.

Positive reviews go a long way to persuading other customers to complete a purchase.

Find ways to inspire your customers with opportunities to do the things they already love, like taking photos and videos, participating in quizzes and contests, and then sharing the content with other people.

Use this user-generated content (UGC) to deliver personalized offers as well as to share enthusiasm about your brand. Odd are it will outperform any other content you professionally produce because of its authenticity and relevancy.

Ready, Set, Celebrate

While planning for the end of the year holidays can seem overwhelming, it’s well worth the effort. “The holiday season can create a halo effect that drives sales and generates positive engagement with your brand well into the new year,” Salesforce notes in its 2017 Guide to Holiday Readiness (registration required).

Start planning now to crystallize your holiday marketing strategies. By setting your brand apart, you can keep your customers happy and boost sales momentum all year long.

2017 Holiday Season

Noreen Seebacher is the content evangelist at Arke, where she researches, writes and continues her long career in news reporting as a brand journalist. Noreen lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her husband, her dog and four formerly homeless cats.