From the December 2011 issue of Entrepreneur

"Average" is the word the National Retail Federation uses to forecast the 2011 holiday season, with an expected 2.8 percent increase to $465.6 billion in sales, just slightly more than the 10-year average of 2.6 percent.

While most of the season's purchases still happen in retail stores, digital research firm comScore reported that online sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010, totaled $32.6 billion--a 12 percent jump over 2009. Electronic marketing research firm eMarketer predicts that 2011 will represent another year of double-digit growth in online holiday spending.

Holiday online retailing has become so much more than just Cyber Monday, that hot shopping start to the post-Thanksgiving week. To capture the most of increased online holiday sales, independent retailers need to be aware of some of the trends and shifts in consumer perspective this year, says retail and consumer expert Andrea Woroch with Windsor, Colo., money-saving website company Kinoli.

5 Ways to Win Online Customers
1. Retarget browsers and abandoners with personalized e-mails and targeted display ads to prompt return visits.

2. Engage with customers via social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. This includes developing special offers and content for social media followers.

3. Add personalized product recommendations to your website, which can contribute 10 percent or more of total sales. Plug-ins like iGoDigital and 4-Tell can help you add these features to your site.

4. Support mobile shopping and browsing by making your website compatible with mobile browsers or by developing customized apps for customers.

5. Review and invest in web analytics to ensure that customers are able to navigate your site quickly and easily, and to see where they are spending time. Use this info to test changes and improvements.

A recent study by management consulting firm Accenture found no significant change in the number of consumers shopping online (66 percent vs. 69 percent in 2010). However, the same study found that 59 percent of shoppers expect to buy more than half of their gifts online. Only 41 percent expected to do so in 2010. But, to get their attention, you'll have to act fast--IBM Coremetrics' 4th Annual Online Retail Holiday Readiness Report found that the average time spent on sites fell to its lowest point in three years: 7:04 minutes in October 2010 vs. 10:04 minutes in April 2008--a 30 percent decline.

Average page views per session are down 45 percent over the same time period--from 13.5 to 7.44.

"Using the site to assess a shopper's browsing history and previous sales history to offer personalized product recommendations, along with reviews and social media, has turned into additional sales for many retailers," Woroch says.

The IBM report supports her recommendation: Shoppers who arrived on sites via social media were more than twice as likely as the overall population to convert to buyers (10.7 percent vs. 5.2 percent), even though they only spend an average of 3:26 minutes on the site. The IBM Coremetrics study found that recommendations can drive 10 percent of total sales.

2010 Top 10 Online Retail Spending Days



Mobile Matters

Mobile Matters
The National Retail Federation's Holiday Survival Kit predicts that nearly 50 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds will make a holiday purchase on their smartphones.

Independents should focus on developing website features and apps that allow customers to shop online quickly and easily.
Source: National Retail Federation

Why shop with your mobile device?
43 percent: Get better discounts
32 percent: Receive alerts when product is in stock
Source: Accenture

Free Shipping

Free Shipping
More than 80 percent of retailers offered free shipping at some point during the 2010 holiday season. Free Shipping Day (which this year falls on Fri., Dec. 16) was the third-highest online spending day during the 2010 holiday season. Get more information on Free Shipping Day at FreeShipping.org.
Source: comScore

Most important online shopping incentives
74 percent: Free shipping
60 percent: Finding better discounts
47 percent: Avoiding crowds
Source: Accenture

Spending Trends

Spending Trends
Average order value (AOV) online hit a record $204.58 in April 2011, up 70 percent from June 2008's low of $120, according to the IBM Coremetrics report. AOV rose 11.3 percent between November 2009 and November 2010. Year-over-year December AOV rose 10.7 percent.
Source: IBM Coremetrics

What they want: 2011 holiday wish lists
54 percent: Apparel
36 percent: Toys
57 percent: Gift cards
36 percent: Gadgets (smartphones, tablet computers, etc.)
Source: Accenture