4 Great Holiday Mail Tips

The holiday season is quickly approaching. Are you ready to send direct mail that gets you better results than last year?

holiday mail
“Mail Direct,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by frankieleon

The holiday season is quickly approaching. Are you ready to send direct mail that gets you better results than last year?

Both customers and prospects are on the lookout for great deals during the holidays. So now is the time to get started planning yours. Staying ahead of your competition is important this time of the year. Are you ready to get started?

How to create great holiday direct mail:

  1. Target — Make sure that you are targeting the right holiday messages to the right people. Yes, your offers need to be targeted. But if you send a Christmas greeting to a Jewish family, you are missing out on a great opportunity to connect with them on a more personal level. The better you target and personalize, the better response you will get. So really look at your data to make sure you have enough information to target correctly.
  2. Fun — Have fun with your mail pieces! This time of year is full of fun, so join in and create a mail piece that is not just an offer, but a really fun experience. Think outside of the box about what you can do differently to have more fun with your prospects and customers. It does not have to be super expensive. Think about adding some texture as a way to make your piece feel different or fun folds that keep on going.
  3. Savings — Make sure you are offering great savings to your prospects and customers. This time of year, they expect it. Remember, it’s all in the wording of the offer. Interpretation is the key, so a higher percentage off a lower-cost item is seen as a better deal than a lower percentage off a high-price item. Target the discounts based on things they are interested in. You can use variable data to make a highly targeted coupon.
  4. Sharing — Offer a way for people to share the savings with friends and family for the holidays. This time of the year, people love to share. So you can have your message expand well beyond your list when they do. This can really help to increase your ROI and make customers and prospects happy they can share.

Great holiday mail incorporates all four of the items above. It is a special time of year that is also reflected in the special types of mailings that get sent out. Don’t just send a postcard — be extra creative for the holidays to not only stand out in the mail box, but to get people to respond. Also, don’t wait for December. Send something for Halloween and Thanksgiving, too. Really get into the holiday spirit and have fun. Customers will appreciate it.

If you have a little extra funds for the holiday campaigns, consider using video or fun cut-outs. Anything you can do to make your mail more interactive and staying on message will help increase your ROI. Make sure that as you are brainstorming ideas, you continue to look at it from the customer’s perspective. You need to focus on what they will respond to and enjoy. If possible, get some customer feedback on your ideas before you launch — just to make sure you are on the right road.

Are you ready to get started on a fun holiday campaign?

Pre-Marketing Strategy: 8 Ways to Build Buzz Factor

Christmas is coming! Can you feel the buzz? Or more specifically, are you generating pre-season buzz now? If the Holiday season is your time to make hay, today I share eight ways to get the buzz going now, while …

Santa's not the only one who should already be working on Christmas. It's time to start building buzz. Christmas is coming! Can you feel the buzz? Or more specifically, are you generating pre-season buzz now? If the Holiday season is your time to make hay, today I share eight ways to get the buzz going now, while it’s only August.

My professional life — and personal life — is consumed with the air of Christmas for about six months of every year. In my personal life, I’m a performer with a world-renowned choral organization, and I oversee the marketing and selling of concert tickets, other events, recordings and fundraising.

Last May we pinned down our Christmas and Spring Season themes. Planning continued through June and July. This summer we introduced content marketing campaigns to warm our patrons to the fact that tickets would soon be on sale.

And now that it’s August, the Christmas and Spring season is announced with tickets on sale. The first week of sales smashed prior records, due in part from the pre-buzz. Starting in September, the marketing focus narrows to only the Christmas Show with heavy email, social content, social targeting, video and direct mail.

Why is this campaign successful? It’s in the “pre.” That is, generating buzz that creates energy and demand for a product or event before it goes on sale.

8 Ways to Build Buzz

When anticipation builds over time before the product goes “now on sale,” a floodgate of demand opens. So here are my eight recommendations for a pre-marketing, buzz-building strategy.

  1. Create content that teases without revealing the entire story. Let your audience know you’re planning and that they’ll learn more in increments.
  2. Give your prospects and customers the future timeline of when your event or product will become available. Then, on the day you go live, make it a big push!
  3. Flood your prospective customers across every channel available to build story. We primarily use email and social media pointing to video. Facebook has become very effective. We embed video for high visibility boosted with sponsored digital ads served to Facebook users who were matched from our email list, and who have visited our website in the past 30 days.
  4. Encourage your social media followers to share your teaser posts with their followers and friends.
  5. Pose pre-launch questions about making your life better, such as: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could …”
  6. If it’s a product launch, take pre-orders and/or create and promote an event to make the announcement.
  7. Post milestones of pre-order quantities, or seats sold (and seats remaining), leading up to the event.
  8. Have a closer strategy. Direct mail remains our deal-closer channel. Yes, email and social media sell for us, but we’ve learned that when we mail more frequently in the season, we ultimately sell more tickets.

Enjoy the buzz of marketing your long holiday season!

(My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” is available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” )

5 Numeric Speed Bumps to Higher Conversion

Ah, the holiday season. Your prospects are moving fast these days in an always-on world, with all the trimmings of distractions and stress. Fast thinking normally trumps slow thinking, yet sometimes you need to slow down thinking long enough to convert your prospect into a paying customer. Your most challenging task during these last days before the holidays may be

Ah, the holiday season. Your prospects are moving fast these days in an always-on world, with all the trimmings of distractions and stress. Fast thinking normally trumps slow thinking, yet sometimes you need to slow down thinking long enough to convert your prospect into a paying customer. Your most challenging task during these last days before the holidays may be slowing down your prospective customers just enough that they don’t skip over your sales message.

Fast thinking is always on. Fast thinking is instinctive and automatic. Whatever pops into the mind of your prospect often happens with no voluntary control. And sometimes fast thinking works in your favor with a quick, impulsive decision to buy.

But, not always.

So, as you set out to grab attention during these frenzied times, remember that when the mind is in fast thinking mode, short, simple sentences, with short words, are more effective. Content that’s breezy in style usually prevails over hard-to-read copy. And this helps to explain why it’s best to write copy that is readable at about a ninth- or tenth-grade level.

But how do you get the fast thinker to slow down when you want them to make a decision?

Here’s where you can create speed bumps in your message, so the mind doesn’t slide down its established memory grooves too quickly and pass you by.

One way to get attention is by introducing numbers. Numbers—especially dollars and cents—are effective speed bumps.

For people to respond to numeric data effectively, they need to be able to do three things:

  1. Comprehend the number.
  2. Interpret it in proper context.
  3. Act on it.

When our daughters were small children, one of the ways that I discovered how to get them out of an emotional tantrum was to ask a question requiring a numerical answer. Questions like “how old are you?” or “how old will you be on your next birthday?” worked like a charm to move our kids from their right brain emotional state to a left brain logical state to slow down their impulsive thinking.

So, when using numbers in marketing copy, you can slow down the readers’ thinking with these five speed bumps:

  1. Ask a question that requires a numeric answer.
  2. Reveal pricing in small chunks, such as a cost per day.
  3. Display discounts in dollars, not percentages. Not everyone quickly grasps that 30 percent off a $100 item equals $30. Better to say “save $30.00.”
  4. Illustrate improvement or satisfaction increases using specific numbers. Better: give numbers visual life in charts or graphs.
  5. Guarantee your product or service for a specific number of days (more time, such as 60 or 90, is stronger than 30 days).

All said, you may be able to get a prospect to make a purchase decision in your favor from snap thinking and decision-making (and if you can close them quickly, then why not?). But most people don’t act that impulsively. And impulsive decisions are a slippery slope to buyer’s remorse. Slow them down, if you can, in these final days before the holidays with a few strategically placed speed bumps.

Getting Your Email Heard Above the Roar of the Holiday Crowd

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels.

The noise in the marketplace is almost deafening under normal conditions. It reaches a high point during the holiday season. Every marketing channel is filled with offers and one-off stunts designed to capture people’s attention, if only for a nanosecond. Frenetic cries from marketers desperate to generate revenue overwhelm the senses of the customers and prospects they seek to engage. Enjoyable shopping experiences become a crazy event that people dread.

Good marketing messages get lost in the attempt to outshout the competition. The constant barrage of screaming marketers becomes white noise to recipients. They become adept at filtering out the extraneous information to only hear the messages they need. This ability is similar to athletes who hear their coaches over thousands of fans.

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels. If your past marketing strategy included provided highly targeted messages your customers are already tuned into your messages. If not, here are a few things you can do now to be heard above the crowd:

  • Make everything as easy as possible. When it comes to making people happy, easy trumps exceptional. This is especially true during the holiday season when time is limited. Create emails that include everything needed to make a buying decision and minimize the number of click from the email link to check out.
  • Be available. Sometimes people have questions that are not addressed in the email, catalog or online. Put your telephone number on every piece of marketing materials, in every email and on every web page. It will increase your sales without significantly increasing your calls. If you offer click to chat service, include a link to it in your emails.
  • Preselect items to simplify the shopping process. Buying patterns change during holiday season because people shift from shopping for self to shopping for others. Review historical data for seasonal purchases and make appropriate recommendations for similar products or services.
  • Offer reassurance. The best delivery and return policies cannot influence purchase decisions if people don’t know about them. Provide specific “order by to receive in time” dates during the shopping process. Send transactional emails that include expected delivery dates and shipping confirmation numbers with a link to the carrier. If there are any issues with the order, notify the buyer immediately.
  • Follow up on abandoned carts. Life gets a little crazy during the holidays. It’s normal to see a bump in abandoned carts since people are ordering more and trying to be secretive about it. Browsers get closed quickly when others walk into the room. Double check your online and email reminders to make sure that they are working. If you don’t have a reminder process in place, add one.
  • Show appreciation. After enough time has passed for the order to be delivered, send an email to verify receipt, thank the customer for the order, and offer assistance if needed. Doing this distinguishes you from the competition, encourages feedback and improves trust. Be sure to use a valid reply address. Test using an individual’s email address versus a generic corporate one. People tend to respond to other people better.
  • Prepare for next year. Create and implement a strategy that is designed to keep people engaged and listening for your voice. The more they are tuned in to your marketing messages the less they will hear the competition.

Gearing Up for the Holidays: Make Your Email Marketing Deliver Long Tail Results

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy. The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Planning for your email campaign should have started weeks ago. If not, this is the time to jump in and get ready. This holiday season is positioned to be extremely competitive. The election advertising bombarding people today will be replaced with promotions trying to squeeze every dollar out of a tough economy.

The holiday season provides two opportunities for enterprising marketers. The first, and most obvious, is the opportunity to increase sales. Bargain hunters everywhere will be snatching up the best deals across all channels. The company with the lowest prices will win their attention—and possibly their business—until a lower price appears at the next store. This opportunity works best for companies with killer price negotiators and heavy volume.

Creating and solidifying relationships between customer and company is the second opportunity. Connections can begin with deep discounts but there has to be a strategy in place to move customers from discount shoppers to loyal buyers. The process starts with understanding how people become loyal to your company. What path do they follow from first purchase to long time customers?

The answer to that question is most likely, “it depends,” because the path is dependent on the customer type and what motivated the first purchase. Discount promotions attract bargain hunters, hit and run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters tend to watch for discounts before buying again while hit and run shoppers buy once and disappear. Active customers stay around during the off-sale season and build lifetime value. Only a small percentage of customers acquired during high promotion periods will become active customers without intervention.

Email is an excellent tool for converting bargain hunters and hit-and-run shoppers into active customers. It is inexpensive and effective when used to strategically move people into the buying cycle. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Review newly acquired customer data from the last three to five holiday seasons to identify bargain hunters, hit-and-run shoppers, and active customers. Bargain hunters rarely buy full price items. Hit and run shoppers buy once or twice, usually within a thirty day period, and disappear. Active customers are the ones who predictably buy throughout the year.
  • Define the path from original source to last purchase. This is where you’ll start seeing some patterns. For example, hit-and-run shoppers typically originate as online shoppers that found your site using search engines or social networks. Identifying them early and adapting your strategy accordingly reduces the resources that will be invested in additional marketing unlikely to generate a return.
  • What paths do the active customers follow from first purchase to their current buying activity? How do they differ from the bargain hunters and hit and runners? Did the people who became active customers receive different marketing promotions? The answers to these questions will help design new campaigns to keep new customers coming back.
  • Create test campaigns that personalize the shopping experience. Holiday time is hectic for some, crazy for others. The easier you make it for your customers, the more likely they will return. Use transactional emails to keep people informed every step of the way. Instead of the perfunctory “your order number 123 shipped today and will arrive in 3-5 business days,” try using more friendly language. Your copywriters can make transactional emails informative, engaging, and entertaining.
  • Follow up after the sale. If the products or services aren’t used, there will never be a second order. Personalized emails that ask about the items and service are a rarity. They will stand out in a sea of incoming messages. In addition to establishing successful relationships, you’ll learn about problems that need resolution.

5 Ways to Leverage the Power of Social Communities This Holiday Season

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

1. Time and execution. Every marketer is working towards Shangri-la — i.e., the right offer to the right consumer in the right channel at the right time. One of the easiest tactics in this equation is to get the timing right. Take the time to analyze critical response patterns within each of your social communities, including what day and time of day your community members are more likely to engage with your social posts. Then schedule your holiday promotions accordingly to increase reach, response and conversion.

2. Integrate and coordinate. Support your holiday promotional efforts with coordinated social posts. Test the sequencing of these efforts and their impact on sales. Take it a step further by offering exclusives to community members and/or early or special access to sales events and specials. Finally, encourage sharing and consider rewarding those that do with additional discounts and/or rewards. Remember to tag and track all social media efforts so you can measure the impact they have on overall sales. Also be mindful of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines governing social media endorsements.

3. Localize and alert. Leverage the power of social media to update communities about local events, extended hours, price changes and even restocking/delivery of popular out-of-stock items. Use geo-targeted posts on platforms like Facebook as well as location-based services like foursquare to help spread the word and optimize sales both online and in-store at the local level.

4. Thank and welcome. As the 2011 holiday season winds down, remember the importance of the post-holiday season as shoppers return unwanted items and look to use gift cards. Fine-tune post-holiday community efforts and communications by identifying new customers, dormant customers who came back, lapsed customers and brand advocates.

Invite those that aren’t already members of your social networks to be part of the community, thank existing customers for their patronage and recognize brand advocates for their support. Consider leveraging this intelligence to boost post-holiday sales pushes with viral programs starting the day after Christmas. By inviting new customers to join your social communities you’ll be building an even bigger foundation to market to throughout 2012.

5. Survey and build buzz. Use collaborative filtering and data to highlight popular products by category, region and customer segment. Solicit feedback and survey customers about their experience with your brand or products and encourage them to share that experience on your social communities and across the social web to build buzz.

It’s hard to believe the 2011 holiday season is upon us. However, with a little planning and coordination there’s still time to leverage the power of your social communities to build sales for 2011 and beyond.

Forecasting a Cheery 2010 Holiday Shopping Season for Paid Search Campaigns

With the holidays fast approaching, news and economic trends relevant to this year’s holiday shopping season have been mixed, though generally favorable. A recent study by ChannelAdvisor revealed that 81 percent of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts this year. The study also found that more of that shopping will be conducted online.

With the holidays fast approaching, news and economic trends relevant to this year’s holiday shopping season have been mixed, though generally favorable. A recent study by ChannelAdvisor revealed that 81 percent of shoppers plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts this year. The study also found that more of that shopping will be conducted online.

From a performance perspective, actively managed holiday paid search campaigns delivered impressive results during the 2009 holiday shopping season in comparison to the rest of the year. In 2010, these campaigns have already achieved strong year-to-date (YTD) growth. This strong YTD growth will likely continue into the fourth quarter, and Performics predicts this will net out to 15 percent year-over-year (YOY) growth for actively managed holiday paid search campaigns. The results could be even stronger for search advertisers who are able to make Q4 outshine the rest of the year like they did in 2009.

Either way, all signs point to growth for these campaigns, and marketers should keep the following opportunities in mind:

Continued emphasis on value. Free shipping and discounts have become standard as retailers continue to vie for cost-conscious consumers. Average order value is down 9 percent YTD according to a Performics Holiday Retail Group report, and this trend will likely continue into Q4. Providing offers on upsell or cross-sell products can help boost order totals and offset free shipping and other discounts merchants offer.

Delayed shopping as savvy consumers research and wait for late sales. The first two weeks in December 2009 saw sales increase by 27 percent compared to 2008, while Black Friday sales decreased 17 percent YOY. Sales during the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas also increased significantly in 2009. However, numbers may shift this year if consumers feel more confident with compelling sales already underway. The recently released Compete Holiday Insights survey found that 50 percent of consumers have already started holiday shopping.

Shoppers are reaching for their phones. Nearly half of adult smartphone owners younger than 25 will use their smartphones to shop this holiday season, according to a new survey from the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch. An increasing share of overall clicks are coming from mobile — 6.7 percent in September, and projected to be greater than 10 percent within 12 months.

Improved efficiency of last-minute shopping. Consumer spending and cost per clicks dropped dramatically following the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas 2009. Active paid search advertisers can do more for less after Dec. 17.

Marketers looking to capitalize on these opportunities and improve holiday performance should consider the following recommendations:

  • follow best practices to actively manage campaigns and effectively respond to market forces;
  • offer aggressive promotions early to capture shoppers;
  • actively participate in the last week of free standard shipping prior to Christmas;
  • embrace mobile to ensure the channel’s increasing user base can find you when searching; and
  • continue active management of paid search beyond Dec. 17 to further boost efficiency.

By following shoppers’ changing behaviors this holiday season — and planning and executing campaigns accordingly — marketers can boost their odds of a jolly holiday.

Showdown of the Holiday Gadget Wish List: Man vs. Marketer

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it’s make-or-break time for the hottest category this time of year — consumer electronics. As always, there will be no shortage of choices. Store aisles will be jam-packed with bright, shiny contenders, all competing for a place in your shopping cart.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it’s make-or-break time for the hottest category this time of year — consumer electronics. As always, there will be no shortage of choices. Store aisles will be jam-packed with bright, shiny contenders, all competing for a place in your shopping cart.

I decided to field a survey to find out which gadgets will earn a much-coveted spot in all those stockings hung by the chimney with care. To put a twist on things, I wanted to compare the responses of average consumers versus marketing professionals. Survey respondents included 100 consumers randomly selected from a survey panel and 100 traditional and digital marketing peers.

Most coveted gadgets: the winners
Want to know what to get your favorite marketer this year? The iPad was the hands-down winner among marketers, chosen by one in five respondents. But the iPad isn’t getting the same amount of consumer love — it ranked seventh in a list of 10 items we asked about, with only 8 percent of consumers including it on their wish lists.

What’s on top of consumers’ lists? Flat-screen TVs rule. Maybe those savvy consumers smell a deal? Last year wasn’t a banner year for TV sales, and the inventory glut is leading to heavy price reductions. According to CNN, the average price for a 32-inch LCD TV is just $374. Quite the bargain when compared inch-for-inch against the 9.7-inch iPad screen.

Life beyond Android and iPhone: the surprises
With all the talk about convergence devices that do it all, I didn’t expect to see a decidedly old-school, not-so-one-stop-shop entry in the top three of both the consumer and marketer list — digital cameras. It’s a reminder that there’s still a lot of demand for specialized, single-use devices.

When it comes to mobile, the iPhone was the most mentioned smartphone for both marketers and consumers, fueled by its heavily anticipated arrival at Verizon. Android phones were rock bottom on the list among nonmarketers, with a mere 2 percent hoping for one this holiday. Smartphones (non-Android or iPhone) made a surprisingly strong showing among consumers, tying for third place with the iPhone. In the iPhone- and Android-obsessed world of marketers, it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of other options out there.

We’re not our target customers: the not so surprising
Over 90 percent of the marketers surveyed labeled one or more of the items they were asked about as a must-have for their holiday wish lists. One in 10 even included additional candidates, including GoogleTV, Xbox with Kinect, Roku and the latest iPod. But the average consumer is definitely less smitten by gizmos and gadgets — over 50 percent said none of the items we asked about will make it onto their holiday wish lists.

The reluctance among consumers to indulge in pricey electronic goodies is consistent with the grim predictions of 2010 holiday spending, such as the recent finding from the NPD Group that “consumers who were considering just cutting back on [consumer electronics] purchases are now not planning to buy anything at all.”

Holiday 2010: the takeaways
While 2011 is shaping up to be the year the iPhone hits mass adoption, there are a lot of other smartphone choices out there. This doesn’t make things any easier for app-slinging marketers, who will have to prioritize the platforms they want to serve.

iPad envy aside, there’s a lot in common between marketers and consumers. For now, most of us are favoring the familiar over the newer-to-market indulgences. Emerging technologies such as 3-D TVs, tablets and e-readers may dominate headlines, but it’s the established devices such as digital cameras and flat-screen TVs that will continue to capture wallet share this holiday season.

As for my list, I’m hoping to get something (or someone) to help carry around all the gadgets I already own. What’s on your wish list?

Virtual Retailer Roundtable TOMORROW!

I wanted to let you know about a great event our sister publication Retail Online Integration is launching tomorrow. It’s the first of four monthly Retailer Roundtable Virtual Conversations we’re hosting this year. The series is comprised of monthly, 45-minute virtual audio chats revolving around a different retail marketing topic each month. Panels of retail experts will make up the roundtables each month.

I wanted to let you know about a great event our sister publication Retail Online Integration is launching tomorrow. It’s the first of four monthly Retailer Roundtable Virtual Conversations we’re hosting this year. The series is comprised of monthly, 45-minute virtual audio chats revolving around a different retail marketing topic each month. Panels of retail experts will make up the roundtables each month.

This month’s conversation, scheduled to take place Sept. 17 at 12 p.m. EST, is called “Using Social Media To Rev Up Holiday Sales.”

During the event, hosted by Bronto Software, you’ll hear from our expert retail panel, which includes Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst, eMarketer; Valerie Hoecke, vice president of experience and commerce at Benefit Cosmetics; and Jay Steinfeld, CEO/founder of Blinds.com. The panel will discuss how to incorporate social media and social networking strategies into your retail holiday promotion plans, ultimately helping you reap more profits.

You’ll learn the following:

  • best practices around offering special holiday deals to your fans and followers;
  • how to entice your fans and followers to see what’s new on your website, sign up to become a member and stick around to buy;
  • how to create a holiday social media strategy; and
  • so much more.

There will be a live Q&A session during the hour, so come armed with questions. You’ll be able to submit your questions directly to our panelists. We also encourage you to tweet about the event via the hastag #ROIWebinar.

Can’t wait to “see” you there!

Melissa Campanelli
@RetailOnlineMag

Good News: Online Sales Expected to Rise This Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

What’s more, U.S. online sales are expected to rise 8 percent this holiday season, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Online retail sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion this year, up from $41.4 billion a year ago, according to the report, providing a bright spot to a retail industry that could still see total sales for the season fall.

So, how are online retailers planning to increase sales this year? Through social media and free shipping promotions, at least according to the results of Shop.org’s eHoliday study, conducted by BIGresearch.

Since many shoppers today use Facebook and Twitter regularly — and because these tools are more cost effective than traditional advertising — 47.1 percent of online retailers surveyed for the study are increasing their use of social media this holiday season.

More than half of the online retailer respondents have updated their Facebook pages (60.3 percent) and Twitter pages (58.7 percent) this year, while two-thirds (65.6 percent) have added or enhanced blogs and RSS feeds. 



As for the multitude of free shipping offers expected during this holiday season, 79.4 percent of those retailers surveyed said they will offer free shipping with conditions at some point during the holiday season. More than half (57.4 percent) also plan to offer free shipping without conditions. More than one-third (35.7 percent) said their budgets for free shipping are higher than last year, and nearly as many (30 percent) said free shipping offers will start earlier than a year ago.

Many online retailers have also revamped their websites this holiday season to make it easier for people to shop. Many, for example, have added or revamped their sites’ shopping carts (45.2 percent), search capabilities (44.3 percent), suggested items (42.9 percent), customer ratings and reviews (40.6 percent), and featured sale pages (37.1 percent), according to the study.

So, are you ramping up your use of social media or free shipping promotions this year? Doing anything else you’d like to tell us about? Leave a comment here.