September may have just begun, but if you’re not engaging holiday shoppers yet, you’re already behind. According to a study from eMarketer, 47% of consumers will have already started their holiday shopping by the end of this month. As the stats in this post will show, social commerce will drive more holiday shopping decisions than ever this year. So, how can you engage shoppers socially to drive revenue this holiday season?

To illustrate some of the social touch-points brands have with holiday shoppers, let’s walk through fictional shopper Tara’s search for a gift for her friend, Neill.

Like 27% of holiday shoppers last year (according to eMarketer) and likely even more shoppers this year, Tara begins her gift search on social media. She heads to Neill’s Facebook profile to look for clues as to what he might like.

Shoppers are using social media to figure out what friends and family want for the holidays. Help them find the answer by encouraging your customers and site visitors to share gift ideas or wish lists with their social networks. PETCO, for example, includes social sharing buttons on every product page.

PETCO includes social network sharing buttons on every product page.

Had Neill shared a product directly from a retailer site like PETCO, his post would pull Tara into the purchase path. He unfortunately hasn’t shared any specific products, but as a live music lover, his recent posts indicate that he might like a digital pocket camcorder to take to concerts.

27% of shoppers who researched and bought holiday gifts online last year looked for ideas about what friends and family wanted on social media.

With her gift idea in mind, and like 59% of gift shoppers, Tara starts her specific gift search at a search engine. Regularly updated content like customer questions and reviews feeds the freshness search engines crave to boost search rankings. Indexing this content directly into product pages’ code maximizes this benefit – indexing drove a 17% increase in natural search for OpenTable. Make sure you’re properly indexing your UGC to show up in holiday shoppers’ gift searches.

Additionally, features like Google Rich Snippets place star ratings and review snippets directly in search results, drawing shopper attention. We’ve even seen UGC improve effectiveness of paid search ads – review content drove a 196% increase in paid search revenue for Office Depot. Use customers’ words in your search marketing to drive traffic.

Star ratings in search results grab shopper attention.

Tara’s search takes her to SmartStore’s shoot-and-share camcorder category page. Here, she finds a number of product options with similar specs and marketing copy.

Like endcaps and signage in a retail store, customer reviews draw Tara’s attention, and help her differentiate between like products. These authentic opinions are the most trusted form of advertising, with 70% and 90% of consumers trusting recommendations from unknown and known reviewers, respectively. Shoppers today expect and demand reviews – according to a ChannelAdvisor study, 83% of ALL holiday shoppers this year will be influenced by customer reviews.

Top-rated pages and ratings help shoppers narrow their choices.

On the category page, Tara can sort by rating to help narrow her choices, and she looks for products that have lots of reviews – number of reviews can be more important than star rating. Retailers and manufacturers should work together now to increase review volume in time for the holidays, both through customer participation and by syndicating reviews from brand sites to retail sites.

Ratings help Tara narrow her choices to a specific product. The product has high reviews, but Tara wonders if it’s good for recording live music. Surveys have shown that having “no way to get a specific question answered” is the most frequent issue shoppers face online, and their search for answers can take them away from your site. Let customers ask questions directly on your site, where other customers and brand reps can answer them.

Tara posts her question on SmartStore’s site, and SmartStore even tweets it to their followers to ensure a speedy answer.

Retailers can tweet customer reviews and questions to their followers.

A few days after posting her question, Tara receives an email from SmartStore – her question has been answered, and the email leads her directly back to the purchase path. Notify shoppers when their questions are answered to bring them back to your site.

Answers from actual product owners build confidence in hesitant shoppers. Click to enlarge.

Confident that she’s found the right gift for Neill, Tara adds the camcorder to her cart. And, realizing she’s under budget, she adds the peer-recommended carrying case to her order as well before checking out. SmartStore can rest assured Tara found the right product – UGC is proven to reduce return rates.

This is how many gift-hunters will shop this holiday season. Is your brand ready?

Want to connect with shoppers this holiday season? We can help.

See how every interaction with a consumer can help drives sales and increase loyalty in this three-minute video.

Ready to discuss how your business can benefit from any of these tips? Request a live demo to see how your brand can get social in time for the holidays.