The Christmas tree is up, tinsel decorates the living room and a fire blazes beautifully in the background. The presents start to mount under the tree as we near yuletide; the time for giving, the time for joy and the time for shared experiences is upon us. As retailers and brands look to capitalise on this season of good will, is it really possible for them to mirror these familial associations of giving, joy and experiences?

The answer is an emphatic yes – but it requires online retailers and brands to rethink their priorities about how they engage with consumers during the festive season. The biggest priority must be tailoring the digital experience to the specific needs, aspirations and intent of Christmas shoppers. What’s more, as one of the busiest times of the year for retailers, it’s never been more important to get this right. In our recent consumer survey , UK consumers said they were 65% more likely to shop online at Christmas than any other period with the figure rising to 75% for Spanish consumers. Yet, research conducted by YouGov , revealed that 44% of people think the online shopping experience is worse during this season.

Christmas is a Special Date

Retailers need to approach the Christmas period as what we call a Special Date; a distinct day or period when customers demonstrate different and singular characteristics, displaying common attributes and specific shopping patterns.

As a ‘Gifting Day’, similar to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter, shoppers at Christmas know they need to buy something but may not know exactly what they’re looking for. These are periods when shoppers demonstrate a high purchase intent that relies on a high discovery component, and retailers must create experiences that satisfy and cater to these needs.

Consumers want to be inspired with suggestions and dynamic product recommendations that are highly relevant, well delivered and personalised. It requires experiences that rely heavily on curated catalogue navigation to enable idea exploration and prescriptive suggestions.

But shoppers also want to be entertained. As the shopping experience is for someone else, say a friend or family member, the experience must be super fun and engaging or there’s a risk that the buyer will lose interest on that search, say, for uncle Pete’s bicycle light.

Personal is Powerful

The ROI of experience is becoming an increasingly sought-after currency, not least during Christmas. Aside from buying a nice present for loved ones, shoppers themselves want to feel special when they search for other people’s presents.

Personalisation in particular is an attribute being adopted by an increasing number of retailers and brands to engage consumers. We all know the struggle of buying presents for loved ones; how many pairs of socks can you buy your father every Christmas?

Some brands are already adopting new and innovative ways of personalising gifts; handmade crafts commerce retailer Etsy partnered with Pinterest to create the Gift Finder tool, a virtual tag to help shoppers find the perfect gift.

Shoppers are encouraged to fill out a gift tag with information on what they’re searching for, who they’re shopping for and a word or two about that person to receive highly personalised recommendations. This is a great example of profiling to ascertain who the gift is for and their interests in order to provide relevant and personalised suggestions. Just as Amazon disrupted the online eCommerce industry with next-day delivery, so profiling and personalisation have become an expected norm when people shop online.

Creating a Christmas Connection

It’s therefore vitally important to understand the intent and characteristics of shoppers for these peak trading events. These techniques – whether through special tools, dynamically optimised suggestions or imagery – are fundamental to creating the kind of experiences that will resonate with consumers at the perfect moment. It will help a brand feel more connected and pack a personal punch at Christmas.

So, if you’re a brand or retailer looking to cash in on Christmas, the advice is simple; give the consumer an experience they’ll never forget through joyful moments that are relevant, awesome and that make them feel understood and special.

For more information on how to create tailored experiences for special dates, check out our Guide to Special Dates .