Christmas is a make-or-break time for retailers. The festive period accounts for a large chunk of a brand’s annual revenue, and Mintel recently announced that online will drive sales of £4.7 billion this year. However, while the goal for retailers at Christmas remains the same, the posts have moved.

Consumers are purchasing across multiple channels and visiting numerous touch points before they buy. With more competition than ever, retailers should have a thorough understanding of their customers’ expectations and shopping habits over the festive period to ensure that they are optimising their offering to drive maximum sales online.

A very cyber Christmas

Brands receive huge boosts by participating in the two major online retail events, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, our own data at Rakuten Marketing suggests that the peak in sales is driven by much more than these two days alone. Although online shopping is often associated with last minute buying, across our affiliate network of retailers over the last two years, we have seen the seasonal peaks in sales start as early as mid-November, and extend past Christmas day.

Last year, the first peak in sales was a day prior to Black Friday (28th November), and a second peak in online retail fell three hours before ‘Cyber Monday’, while a final peak occurred on Boxing Day. This highlights that consumers are buying as soon as they find the best deal, as well as continuing to browse and buy online whilst enjoying the festivities at home. By sharing an offer or product that customers can’t refuse, brands can drive sales whether it’s a well-marketed shopping day or not.

As opposed to focusing on the days which are touted as the key shopping dates, retailers should keep their foot on the pedal throughout the entire Christmas season. By ensuring that they have a strategic and strong campaign across all channels from the beginning of the golden quarter through to the the New Year, brands can benefit from an elongated period of higher sales.

Tablets bring the gift of conversion

In order to ensure they truly make Christmas sales sparkle, brands should look carefully at the devices consumers are using to make purchases. Whilst desktops continue to drive high volumes of sales, with over 75% of sales across our network occurring through desktops on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, tablets are converting consistently across the entire period.

According to the IAB, 58% of consumers use their tablets at home as the device of choice to browse the internet, which makes it unsurprising that we are seeing tablets fight off the competition in terms of conversion rate. Last year across our network, tablets saw a conversion rate of 6% (up 0.3% from 2012) outstripping the competition of mobile, which saw a conversion rate of 1.6%.

As tablets are increasingly the go-to device for consumers, retailers should ensure that the content they create for their Christmas campaigns reflect this trend. The video and image-led qualities of tablets attract consumers to them as a shopping device, and brands should be harnessing this quality to encourage consumer engagement. For example, videos featuring clothes on a catwalk lets shoppers see how items look when worn, whilst high res images with zoom allow shoppers to see more detail.

Mobilise your offering

It’s all too easy to see that smartphones drive lower conversion rates than tablets and desktops and write the device off, thinking it won’t add benefit over the Christmas period. However, our data shows that the uptake of mobile in retail amongst consumers has grown an impressive amount over the past two years. While a conversion rate of 1.6% may seem low, this is an increase of 59.9% year-on-year from 2012. With the innovations in mobile payment systems and apps, it’s likely that we will see a similar size increase in mobile sales in 2014; an increase of even 56% would raise this to 2.5%, making it increasingly noteworthy.

Brands should be paying careful consideration to smartphones when creating a mobile campaign. These campaigns need to be tailored; a dynamic ad designed for tablet won’t cut it for a smartphone experience. Retailers must ensure that their sites are mobile responsive and designed with an on-the-go shopping experience in mind. Customers don’t think about the device they are using, they view their shopping experience as an interaction with a brand, not the channel. By creating a mobile-specific experience for shoppers, brands will reap the rewards later on in the buying journey. After engaging with an ad on their mobile phone, customers could likely look up the product when they get home on their tablet.

Brands can use insights about what consumers are purchasing on mobile to target shoppers with the right product. For example, across our network we are seeing more beauty purchases being made than fashion or luxury sales, suggesting that mobile is a device used for smaller purchases. Brands should harness these insights to remarket these products to the consumer. Serving ads based on data trends means the campaign is more likely to be successful.

Christmas is just around the corner, and brands should be ready to implement their campaigns. A three month period of sales brings pressure for retailers, but by offering a customer experience which anticipates and responds to the needs of the consumer, the brand willstand out from the competition, as well as drive conversions. By understanding consumer shopping habits across this crucial sales period, and reaching customers on the right device with a tailored solution, brands can provide a truly multichannel and seamless experience. By doing so, retailers make the path to purchase more enjoyable for the consumer, and in turn ensure they see glittering results at the end of the golden quarter.