Retailers who are just now starting to turn their attention to holiday planning might feel like they’re already behind the eight ball. The common observation that the holidays seem to start earlier every year isn’t just a casual conversation-starter. It’s become an observable fact—and it’s rapidly changing how people shop. If brands want to reach shoppers throughout the entirety of their holiday shopping cycle, now is the time to be forging the partnerships that can deliver much-needed sales boosts during this critical time of year. 

In developing partnerships for the holiday season, retailers need to keep in mind the dramatic shifts seen in consumer shopping behaviour over the past few years. Let’s take a look at a few of these trends, and how marketers can leverage partnerships to respond to current consumer desires and demands in the holiday shopping season.

The shopping season Is expanding in both directions

In 2018, the holiday shopping season will start earlier and run later than ever before. Last year, major retailers didn’t wait for Black Friday to start their holiday promotions. Rather, they kicked things off in early November. Shoppers took notice and adjusted their own shopping schedules accordingly. We can expect this trend to continue this year, and shoppers are going to start looking for promotions as early as October. 

Once upon a time, Black Friday was the pivotal holiday shopping event across the retail sector, but that’s changed in relatively short order. While Black Friday is not to be ignored, Cyber Monday has usurped it as the biggest shopping day of the year. Meanwhile, the holiday season doesn’t stop at Christmas. In fact, the day after Christmas is the fourth biggest shopping day of the season, and that increased activity carries on well into the new year. That week between Christmas and New Year’s (also known as Cyber Week II) just might be the most under-tapped opportunity for retailers. 

Marketers looking to fully capitalize on this extended season should work with their partners, whether affiliate or strategic, to schedule promotions to the optimal times to reach their specific shopper segments. 

Mobile’s role has increased

Last year, a third of all holiday purchases were made on smartphones. You can bet that figure is only going up. As shoppers get more comfortable with making mobile purchases, including through social apps, marketers should think about how to make mobile device transactions a source of competitive advantage. For example, work closely with partners that are able to deliver offers and promotions while shoppers are researching gifts or comparing prices. Even better, a partner who can offer in-store deals and promo codes will facilitate the seamless integration of online and offline experiences that shoppers crave. It’s all about catching that holiday shopper at the right point and converting a browser to a buyer.

In some cases, partnerships can help retailers overcome deficiencies in their own m-commerce experiences. By forming partnerships with apps that shoppers can’t live without, retailers can bridge that gap. Great offers and digital merchandising can dramatically boost conversion rates. In addition, marketers should look to ensure their methods of measurement and attribution for partnerships can accurately track and report on any mobile contribution to conversion. 

Influencers increasingly shaping holiday purchases

Ever been stumped on what gift to buy for a certain individual? Of course, you have. In this common situation, shoppers are grateful for recommendations and gift ideas from the social influencers and bloggers that they know and trust. 

Brands should look to partner with those influencers who have the right audience, while also remaining authentic. It is important to give those partners the assets and promotions needed to make the engagement a success. According to Media Group Online, 19% of consumers surveyed said social media was “very influential” or “extremely influential” on their 2017 holiday purchases. Facebook (56%) and Pinterest (25%) are the social media sites that consumers primarily consulted for holiday gift ideas.

Data can help marketers pivot faster

Because the holiday season is longer than ever, it’s even more vital that retailers avoid a “set it and forget it” mindset. Constant tracking, measuring and optimizing of campaigns — including those being run with partners — is more important than ever. 

Marketers must equip themselves with the tools needed for accurate, real-time conversion tracking, and they must ensure they understand the full path to purchase around their holiday promotions. Share information with your partners and affiliates throughout your campaigns with them to ensure they have the information needed to adjust on their end. 

Brand-to-brand partnerships are hotter than ever

Finally, retailers should get creative this holiday season when it comes to the scope of their partnerships. Traditional affiliate relationships are extremely valuable in driving holiday sales, but so too are strategic brand-to-brand alliances. 

For the holidays, take time to consider the hot gift categories likely to appeal to your target consumer, and look to align your company with complementary brands for clever cross-promotions. For example, if you represent a travel brand, take a look at luxury brands and how joint promotions could prove mutually beneficial. You might be surprised to learn how many brands out there are eager to partner around a good idea. 

Above all, as you prepare your holiday campaigns, keep in mind that the new customers you reach this season have the potential to become lifelong brand loyalists. By investing in the creation of custom, mutually beneficial partnerships, you’ll be well positioned to convert one-off holiday purchases to meaningful long-term customer relationships.