It’s that time of year when most people turn their thoughts to family, friends and time off, while retailers turn their thoughts to bigger profits.

Christmas is a ‘make or break’ time for retailers – a time to make up sales from a sluggish year, and online it’s no different.

One could argue online vendors face greater challenges than their offline counterparts, what with additional headaches such as last-minute order times for delivery, increased customer service demands, expensive gift-wrapping – not to mention simply meeting demand.

That said, it can also be a time when online comes into its own because of all the advantages it provides, specifically ease of ordering. With this in mind here, are my top five tips for a how online retailers can make this Christmas a bumper season!

1. Spruce up the shop front

You can be sure that every high street shopkeeper will be buying a Christmas tree, getting some decorations in and making their premises look inviting and festive, so why would you treat your webshop any differently? Festive imagery featuring the usual suspects (trees, bells, holly and, of course, Santa) are all firmly in order. Have a sense of humour with it, don’t worry if it’s not ‘on brand’ (no-one will know!). Remember, Christmas is a time for fun and your customers will love you for being a part of their festivities. Also, reminding them it’s Christmas will help drive sales as they remember all the shopping they have to do!

2. Help your customers pick the perfect gift

Here’s where the web really comes into its own. Our Christmas strategy for a large UK client last year was to create a ‘gift suggester’ that allowed users to choose from a range of personality types, gender and age. This helped us narrow down from a wide range of products to a selection of carefully chosen gifts. We then linked the ‘gift selection’ pages to our pay-per-click campaign which meant Google picked them up for really strong Christmas searches (e.g. ‘Gifts for sport lovers’ etc). This generated some seriously impressive conversion rates, great customer feedback and helped increase that vital Christmas revenue.

3. Give a little Christmas lovin’

It might seem on the face of it to be a little counterintuitive to be offering discounts during the year’s biggest trading period. But with the internet being the place to grab a bargain – along with typically reduced customer loyalty – offering a bit to get a lot back can mean huge rewards. A great example of this is a campaign a colleague described to me recently in which a Christmas ecard was sent out to a client’s email list offering a voucher code with an on-site discount. The catch was, you could only ‘pass it forward’ i.e. the original recipient couldn’t redeem the code themselves, only ‘give’ it to their friends. This had huge viral uptake, with the code eventually spreading far outside the original target group, driving valuable sales, whilst perfectly summing up the wonderful giving spirit of Christmas.

4. Let them know it’s Christmas

Christmas is a time when we’re all spreading love and joy, so don’t leave your customer email database out of it! Our strategy this year with one of our clients is targeted email sends. Rather than ‘blanket mailing’ their sizeable database, we carefully select key market segments based on data analysis from previous sends. These segments are then sent targeted offers, based on their known interests (from user data or previous purchasing habits). What we’ve seen is that by offering comparatively little in terms of margin we can see some huge participation rates and revenue figures, plus we’re giving customers valued, targeted content reducing spam and unsubscribe rates.

5. Don’t ruin their Christmas

OK, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but there’s nothing worse than ordering online for Christmas and not receiving you gifts in time for the big day. While you may not be able to control the postal service, you can make sure you let your customers know well in advance of their order when they should expect to receive their gifts. Use it as a selling point – remember small items such as gift cards can be shipped much quicker by special delivery, so give your customers this option to maximise those vital last minute sales.