It's that time of year when the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the business owners get antsier. The holiday shopping season is the biggest revenue generator for most businesses and to confound matters, they must compete with every other business that is also trying to take advantage of holiday shopping frenzies. I've already given you six tips for successful seasonal sales. This article will focus on the most recent research that can be used to help business owners plan for and execute more effective holiday marketing campaigns.

The holiday season is gearing up to be a big one for business owners and now is the last chance to get things right before it's too late. Nielsen reported that U.S. holiday shopping spending in 2014 is expected to beat last year's sales numbers by 2 percent. The study had other useful information for marketers.

The researchers found that:

  • Gift cards will be big sellers this year. According to the study, 12 percent of Americans plan to spend more on gift cards during the 2014 holiday season than they did in 2013. Toys and technology products purchase increases were both cited by 10 percent of Americans as things they will send more on this year.
  • Women will be doing much of the shopping this holiday season. Nearly one in five U.S. men don't plan to do any shopping during the holidays. The figure is one in 10 for U.S. women.
  • With an improving economy, many shoppers plan to spend more. The study notes that 12 percent of households earning under $50,000 (and 8 percent of those earning less than $50,000) plan to spend more during the 2014 holiday season than they did in 2013.
  • Nearly one-third of U.S. of households plan to spend between $250 and $500 during the 2014 holiday season.

To be honest, the time to start holiday marketing has already past. According to Nielsen, 22 percent of Americans are already doing some of their holiday shopping. Remember, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are more inventions of the media than anything else. It's not like everyone in America agreed to not buy Christmas stuff before that date. If people see a good deal before those dates, they will take advantage of it. Consider this: Though everyone likes to make a big deal about Cyber Monday, last year 66 million Americans (one out of six people in the U.S.) used their desktops to shop online on Black Friday, spending over $1 billion. That doesn't even include mobile shopping. So waiting for a certain day to get specials out there can be a costly mistake for businesses.

One thing business owners should be concerned about is having a consistent shopping experience across all their channels and mobile site versions. According to a recent study from Loyalty360, 90 percent of U.S. consumers expect the customer experience to be consistent across channels and devices used to interact with brands during the 2014 holiday shopping season. This may seem obvious but this is significantly up from the 73 percent that expressed that sentiment in 2013.

"This holiday season, more than ever, brands need to be prepared to cater to shoppers wherever they are as they research and purchase products--in store, online, or on their mobile devices," said Mark Lancaster, the CEO of SDL, in an interview with Loyalty360.

Everyone loves the holidays but people hate the lines. Another key feature to have in place is in-store pickup for online orders, which can save time for consumers. Increasingly, people are shopping online but getting the item in-store to avoid shipping time and costs. According to eMarketer, 1 in 5 U.S. internet users purchased a product online and picked it up in a store during the 2013 holiday season. For marketers across the pond, it's even more important. The same study found that 45 percent of U.K. internet users purchased a product online and picked it up in a store during the 2013 holiday season.

The holiday shopping season is here and business owners need to bring the best deals and strategies to the table if they want to outmaneuver the competition. For more information that can help marketers and business owners craft better campaigns, read this article with nine social media stats to get marketers prepped for the holidays.

Published on: Nov 10, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.