It's no secret that the last two months of the year are the most competitive for retailers. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become their own retail holidays, marked by price discounting and heavy consumer marketing.

The good news for retailers is that shoppers are planning on spending more on their holiday lists this year. The National Retail Federation announced that the average holiday shopper is expected to spend about $804 this year, up nearly 5% from 2013. But even with an increase in consumer spending, the hunt for the best deal is going to continue to drive business.

Creative seasonal promotions offer retailers a golden opportunity to boost their sales. Here are five easy-to-implement tips to make the most of this important retail season:

1. Be a "time saver" for gift giving

The typical holiday shopper is frazzled and time-pressed. Trying to figure out what to get friends, family, and colleagues just adds to the stress and frustration. For years, major toy retailers like Toys"R"Us, Wal-Mart, and Target have helped parents and grandparents reach shopping Nirvana through Hot Toy lists. For example, Toys"R"Us releases their Great Big Christmas Book every year and has "Here's What's Hot" and "Gift Express" shops in their stores to help out the confused gift-giver.

Curated gift lists don't need to be limited to toys or large retailers. Think outside the box for ways you can help your shoppers find that perfect gift for friends, teachers, party hosts, spouses, even pets. You can publish hot gift lists as part of your email and social media marketing, as well as create easy-to-find merchandising displays in store for stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, etc.

2. Incentivize customers with "buy more-save more" offers

Encourage shoppers to finish off their entire holiday gift list by offering tiered discounts that kick in after spending a certain amount. Such promotions include $20 off $100, buy two and save 20%, buy three and save 30%; or offer a free gift with $100 purchase.

Relatively minor rewards such as free gift wrapping for orders above a certain amount, or bonus gift cards with a minimum purchase can nudge customers into spending just a little more. The same strategy applies to big-ticket items. For example, Ikea offers customers 20% off an entire kitchen when they spend $4500 or more. Whether it's 20% off or a free gift, give a compelling reason for shoppers to spend more with your company.

3. Help customers spread holiday spending throughout the year

For many consumers, holiday spending pushes a tight December budget right over the edge and many consumers are becoming increasingly wary of racking up huge credit card bills. The "No Payment, No Interest" payment plans offered by many big box stores are effective and changing perceptions but some have earned a reputation for being unfair to consumers with hidden fees and interest.

As a small retailer selling big-ticket items, you can help your customers break that hefty price tag into more budget-friendly monthly payments with a low-interest point-of-sale financing loan. Most have better terms than the typical credit card and won't shock your customers with a huge penalty if they forget to make their last month's payment.

4. A feel good promotion: Giving back through holiday purchases

Tying holiday spending to worthy incentives lets your store forge an emotional bond with customers. For many people, the holiday season is a balance between consumer purchases and a time to think about those less fortunate. As such, it's no surprise that a growing number of retailers are partnering with charities to create holiday campaigns around giving, such as donations at checkout and charitable incentives tied to purchases.

For example, Macy's partners with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, donating $1 for every customer letter or video to Santa. Subaru donates $250 to charity when a buyer purchases or leases a new car. And clothing retailer Boden offered a $15 Boden voucher for making a donation to No Kid Hungry between October 27 and November 10.

According to a Cone Cause-Evolution Study, 83% of Americans wish more retailers and brands would support causes and 41% have bought a product because it was associated with a cause or issue.

5. Offer convenient, but realistic delivery options

Last year, approximately 2 million express packages were left stranded by delivery companies on Christmas Eve, due to a combination of bad weather, procrastination, and overpromising on express shipping commitments. Giving last-minute shoppers express shipping is nice, but only if those items actually arrive in time.

After last year, there's heightened anxiety over delivery times and ensuring that packages make it under the Christmas tree. If you have both an online presence and brick-and-mortar store, in-store pickup gives your customers the convenience of online shopping with the ability to have their items safely in hand within hours or a day of ordering.

When it comes to shipping policies, work with your shipping carrier, set a reasonable cut off date and stick to it. You can even create a sense of urgency with deadline countdowns, and encourage your price savvy customers to buy early by offering a price matching guarantee.

The bottom line

This may be the most competitive time of year, but it offers a perfect opportunity to help your customers survive the stress of holiday shopping while boosting your fourth quarter sales.

Published on: Nov 17, 2014