The holiday shopping season comes along they same time every year, but using the same marketing strategy year after year is a recipe for lackluster sales. Just as the hottest items for gifts change every year, so do the best ways to reach consumers. This goes beyond simply using the internet. Business owners need to understand current trends in technology in order to make connections with a more internet-connected consumer.

Recently, Walker Sands released a study titled "The Future of Retail 2017", which is based on a survey of more than 1,600 consumers. It provides useful insights into the behavior of connected consumers and how technology is expected to further shift buying preferences in the near future.

There are many ways to shop online and consumers are spending a lot more time shopping for holiday gifts using various kinds of online services and devices. According to the Walker Sands report, 41 percent of consumers completed all or the majority of their holiday shopping online in 2016. In this recent survey, nearly half (46 percent) of the respondents said they now prefer to shop online via desktop, mobile or voice ordering.

It's becoming necessary for all businesses to have online component as part of the marketing, advertising or sales strategy. Almost a third of consumers (29 percent) shop online at least once a week. This is even more important for retailers targeting young adults since 37 percent of millennials reported being weekly online shoppers. Only 4 percent of consumers don't shop online at all.

The report emphasizes the importance of mobile marketing for modern marketing campaigns. According to some estimates, smartphone penetration has reached 78 percent among U.S. consumers, and more than half own a tablet (55 percent). While traditional ads and websites are still important for advertising, the growth and mobile devices creates several new ways for businesses to connect with consumers.

One way mobile devices have changed the way people shop is through the use of apps. Nearly two out of three consumers (65 percent) have mobile shopping apps on their phones, and just as many have made a purchase through a mobile app (66 percent). According to the Walker Sands data, more than one in four consumers (29 percent) report that they always or often shop via mobile app, and 38 percent regularly shop on mobile websites.

When trying to catch the attention of the modern, connected consumer, fast delivery options are still a crowd pleaser. In the survey, free shipping (80 percent) and fast shipping (54 percent) were the top incentives for consumers to purchase more online. People are even growing to expect even faster delivery times. In the past year, 13 percent of consumers have ordered something for same-day delivery, which is up from 9 percent in 2016.

The report also offers advice on how to attract customers to brick-and-mortar store. In addition to discounts, consumers in the Walker Sands survey said that unique experiences will cause them to shop more in physical stores. For specific examples of things that can create such an experience, the respondents listed things such as, including food and beverage offerings (30 percent), a more personalized experience (18 percent), live product demonstrations (18 percent) and entertainment (17 percent).

For businesses that can afford to invest in the latest trends, there is evidence that physical stores can benefit from using technology. A significant number of people said they liked smart dressing rooms (15 percent) and virtual reality experiences (13 percent). These may not have found full adoption yet among consumers, but they are areas to consider when trying to stand out and deliver a unique experience.

Online shopping will only grow in importance with time. Although 54 percent of consumers still prefer to shop in store, more than three-quarters of the shoppers surveyed by Walker Sands (77 percent) believed the online customer experience will eventually surpass the brick-and-mortar customer experience. It's up to business owners to improve their online channels to meet that expectation.

For more research that can help marketers prepare for a successful holiday season, read this article on catching the attention of technology distracted millennials.