This year, I took the challenge—I Christ­mas shopped. Those of you who fol­low me on Twit­ter saw my progress under #christ­masshop­ping as I wove through the ver­i­ta­ble e-commerce mazes, try­ing to become the ulti­mate con­sumer con­vert. I clicked. I com­pared. I delighted in the good and ques­tioned the bad as I made my list, checked it twice, and shopped—weeks after the Black Friday/Cyber Mon­day crush, I might add, and all in the name of research, of course.

#christ­masshop­ping day one: #googled “what to make a 12 year old boy for Christmas”—old@FoxNews arti­cle top result

Day one—my 12-year-old son. A sim­ple Google search to start, and I’m imme­di­ately side­tracked by this Fox News arti­cle from 2006. After catch­ing her then 12-year-old son unwrap­ping a Nin­tendo Game Boy Advance Grandma had bought him, Mom called the cops and had her son arrested for petty larceny.

My take­away? My family’s Christ­mas is already off to a bet­ter start than theirs. Back to shopping …

One of the clear win­ners of hol­i­day 2013? Shop­ping apps. Retail­MeNot took brick-and-click to a new level, with a search-and-seize approach to deal hunt­ing that extends across in-store and online sales. View deals by retailer, by what’s trend­ing, or based on your location—the app deliv­ers the best and most rel­e­vant. Save deals and have the cashier scan your phone, or look for top online-only promotions.

At the end of day one I found what I needed and no one got arrested. I say #success.

#christ­masshop­ping day two: nice @amazon email thanks for @amazonprime mem­b­shp $50 off@KindleFire offer: click. redeem. $ off in cart. cool.

On day two of my shop­ping adven­ture, an email from Ama­zon popped up in my inbox offer­ing $50 off a Kin­dle Fire, just for being a Prime mem­ber. In sec­onds I’m on Ama­zon, snag­ging one before they’re gone. Act sur­prised, unsus­pect­ing mem­ber of the Lind­say household.

More than the incred­i­ble deal, though, Ama­zon hooked me with just how easy it was. The email was sim­ple, tar­geted, and when I clicked through, it took me straight to the pur­chase page. It couldn’t have been more seamless.

The right place/right time approach isn’t new. But Amazon’s abil­ity to cut through the clut­ter dur­ing the holidays—when my inbox is already over­loaded and the deals keep coming—is impres­sive. For the next few days, it’s essen­tial that retail­ers con­nect the dots from a mes­sag­ing and opti­miza­tion per­spec­tive. Whether it’s per­fectly curated, highly tar­geted, or too per­son­al­ized to resist, the mes­sage has to be just right. And what’s more, when peo­ple do click through, the con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence needs to be a cohe­sive no-brainer. The less they have to do to make the pur­chase, the bet­ter. Another #suc­cess, Amazon.

#christ­masshop­ping day 3: shopped on the @REI app. “5 days, 5 brands” deals are great … Best way to engage on first screen. #mcom­merce

We’re an out­door fam­ily, so REI is always a must. This year, the company’s “5 Days, 5 Brands” pro­mo­tion topped my list. Promi­nently posi­tioned on the home­page, it’s the per­fect way to engage on the first screen. The deal? Every Thurs­day through Decem­ber 23, the brand’s top five part­ners are serv­ing up sub­stan­tial dis­counts on pop­u­lar gifts. It’s a good les­son in sim­ple engage­ment and a #suc­cess for REI.

Despite my pen­chant for online shop­ping, though, I truly love their stores. REI has blurred the lines between brick and click, cre­at­ing a true omnichan­nel expe­ri­ence. From free in-store Wi-Fi that encour­ages shop­pers to strad­dle dig­i­tal and in-store, to a geo-based app that gets me exactly what I need, to a con­sis­tent brand iden­tity that extends across each pil­lar, REI proves that going omnichan­nel matters—and that it doesn’t mean redefin­ing the essence of the brand.

Never mind my #christ­masshop­ping shop for ME here: Your 2013 Pro­duc­tiv­ity Gift Guide by@drake_baer via @FastCompany

If you’re still look­ing for some­thing to get me you’ll find it in Drake Baer’s pro­duc­tiv­ity gift guide. From music that max­i­mizes con­cen­tra­tion to a vir­tual assis­tant, the “Cadil­lac of Note­books,” and even a tread­mill desk, I’ll hap­pily take one of each. It’s the ulti­mate com­ing together of func­tional and fun, deliv­er­ing gifts that keep on giv­ing through bet­ter focus, fit­ness, and form and, of course, ensur­ing that every­one will be jeal­ous of the new office setup. What could be better?

This engag­ing gift guide is a tes­ta­ment to the power of con­tent mar­ket­ing, show­ing brands how to lever­age exist­ing chan­nels to engage and con­vert. It’s your con­tent on your site, but there’s immea­sur­able value when it’s done right. Think a well-curated gift guide for the diehard or for those buy­ing for the diehard, or the top 10 prod­ucts ranked by con­sumer rat­ings. Or maybe now is the per­fect time to pull together a list of last-minute gift ideas that look any­thing but? I’m still shop­ping. Many of your tar­get cus­tomers prob­a­bly are, too.

So, what gets a “bah hum­bug” rat­ing? Sites that don’t aut­ofill cor­rectly. I can’t tell you how many aut­ofill online forms have me liv­ing in France. By the time I real­ize the error, infor­ma­tion I’ve entered is gone and I’ve got to start over. Do it right and be sure you’re check­ing forms before push­ing them live.

On that note, check­outs over­all seem to be a major pit­fall for many e-commerce sites, lead­ing to cart aban­don­ment. Demand­ing sign in and reg­is­tra­tion before the pur­chase is a good exam­ple. Can’t remem­ber your pass­word? We’ll send it to you. Haven’t shopped here before? Answer 10 ques­tions, cre­ate a login, and only then can you buy. Another check­out peeve? Wait­ing until the final screen to give ship­ping costs. That’s a one-way ticket to cart abandonment.

I also say bah hum­bug to retail­ers who don’t offer Pay­Pal for pay­ments. I’ve left count­less sites because they man­date a credit card. With fre­quent secu­rity breaches, Pay­Pal just makes sense, and what’s more, a strong Pay­Pal pres­ence is a con­ver­sion booster. Just remem­ber, when inte­grat­ing Pay­Pal, take shop­pers to the site instantly and then bring them back just as read­ily into the check­out process. Don’t make it hard or put me and my fel­low PayPal-ers at a dis­ad­van­tage, and we’ll likely keep com­ing back.

From the bril­liant to the bah hum­bug, I’m actively nav­i­gat­ing through the post-Cyber Mon­day e-commerce land­scape. But I’m not done yet. Check back in a few days and I’ll let you know how my 12 days of shop­ping are going. If you’re still shop­ping you can still come out ahead. Like­wise, if you’re a retailer look­ing to take full advan­tage of the next few days, keep test­ing and keep opti­miz­ing because a lot of stock­ings still need stuffing.

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