With the holidays coming to a close and 2010 just around the corner, what's ahead in the New Year? Below, hear perspectives on marketing from industry leaders to prepare your business for success in 2010, and beyond.

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Here's to a successful close to the holiday season and a happy, fruitful New Year! See you in 2010.

A mere 3 days until Christmas, one might expect consumers to be ready for the holidays. But, according to our recent Google/OTX Consumer Pulse Check survey, procrastination just might be the hottest trend this season. As of Monday, December 21st, the average consumer has approximately 38% of shopping left to complete.

Compared to the week following Cyber Monday, that's a decrease of 26 percentage points. Also of note is that though many consumers will be scrambling to finish their shopping, there are some who have not even begun. Don't worry, we won't name names but we did find that 14% of holiday shoppers have not started researching their holiday purchases and 17% have yet to purchase a single gift for their family and friends.

Will Santa be tardy this year? We certainly hope not! Assist consumers with their last minute purchases by directing them online or in-store through your online marketing efforts.

With just 4 days until Christmas and record e-commerce sales reported last week, what will go down as the hottest items of the 2009 shopping season?

Using Google Insights for Search, we can see that the hottest toys over the last seven days include stalwarts like Pikachu and Legos, as well as newcomers, such as the Nerf Marshmellow Shooter and the surprise hit of the holiday season, a blanket-with-sleeves known as the Snuggie.

In the shopping category, we've seen Black Friday reach new heights, toping the rising search term list over the last 30 days as consumers continue to seek out the best prices. Consumers too continue to turn to familiar, top retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon and Macy's.

In the final days before Christmas, expect consumers to continue their deal-seeking ways as they hunt for the hottest items and where to buy them. Ensure your online presence is strong to reach these consumers during this final push.

Though the holidays may soon come to an end, the winter shopping season is just getting started! Following Christmas, there are a number of post-holiday opportunities to begin taking advantage of.

Of course, the next big retail holiday is Valentine's Day. Using Google Insights for Search, we see that search volume upticks in early January for Valentine's Day gifts. While flowers and candy will likely remain popular, looking at top valentine's day searches we find that many shoppers are searching for unique ideas, especially for men, so make sure to position your products accordingly.

Search traffic: valentine's day gifts

Additionally, though prom season is still months away, traffic starts to pick up immediately after the holiday season and increases again after Valentine's Day.

Search traffic: prom dresses

Prom isn't the only formal event coming up. Wedding planning also upticks after the winter holiday season. Planning a wedding means buying products ranging from attire (dresses, veils, tuxes, shoes), to decor (flowers, candles, and centerpieces), to jewelry and invitations. Target wedding planners through your search and content marketing campaigns.

Search traffic: wedding planning

And last but not least, winter is also time for outdoor sports and activities such as skiing and hockey! Both activities require some serious gear and warm weather clothing. Keep this in mind, and make sure these products are easy to find on your site.

Search traffic: ski equipment

There is a lot to consider when developing your post-holiday business strategies. Remember that while the busiest shopping season is coming to a close, consumers will still be looking for products in many categories. Leverage Google Insights for Search to identify these opportunities, ensure you've positioned these products prominently on your site, and make sure that your ads and budgets are optimized to capture winter shoppers!

With over 700 retailers participating in Free Shipping Day this year, today marks a prime opportunity for online shoppers and retailers alike. While consumers are already enjoying the opportunity to save money on their online holiday purchases today, retailers are poised to benefit from the increased media attention through increased e-commerce sales.

Last year, Free Shipping Day fell on Thursday, December 18th and marked one of the ten highest e-commerce days of the year. And, according to our Google/Compete Daily Search Barometer, which analyzes the top 450 retail websites, conversion rates too peaked on this day - reaching levels similar to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Using Google Insights for Search, we see that searches for 'Free Shipping Day' are up slightly year-over-year.

Similarly searches for 'Free Shipping Code' are up 35%, searches for 'Free Shipping' are up approximately 13%, and searches for 'Free Shipping Coupon' are up 32%.

Is Free Shipping Day the next big online event of the holiday season? With double digit growth in search interest, it may very well be.

With the holiday shopping season in full swing and comScore reporting a cumulative 4% year-over-year increase in online consumer purchases, this season is turning into a record breaking one. But, as we've been discussing so far this week, what happens after the holidays?

In addition to post-holiday purchases and gift card redemptions, every year thousands of individuals promise to take more vacations, lose weight, or knock that pesky bad habit as they ring in the new year. A search for top ten new year's resolutions 2009 produces results for everything from learning a new skill to spending more time with the family.

New Year's resolutions provide an opportunity to reach the "resolutionaries." In fact, search volume for "new years resolutions" begins to uptick around December 26th, with search volume remaining high through mid-January.

With 2010 just around the corner, it's not only time to think about your New Year's resolution but also to build a campaign if you sell related products to capture this increased interest.

With 73% of consumers planning to purchase gift cards this year, gift cards are likely to be a notable driver of profits this holiday season [1]. Most recently, retailers like Home Depot, CVS, and the Container Store have gone digital, ditching the plastic and adding electronic gift cards to their websites. These expansions are reflected in search patterns - search volume in "gift cards" has trended above 2008 levels throughout the season.

But the selling of gift cards is just one part of the equation - gift card redemptions can come just days or even months after the gift is received. As we discussed yesterday, consumers are expected to head online to both research and purchase post-holiday and, as we can see below, searches for "gift card redemption" peak just following the holidays and last through mid-January.

With that, the opportunity is ripe to reach these gift-card recipients. Top rising "gift card" searches over the last 30 days include those focused on discounted and printable gift cards, as well as those from top retailers.

Target these recipients through post-holiday campaigns that encourage gift card redemption.

Source: [1] Google/OTX Consumer Intentions for Holiday 2009, September 2009. n= 2002. [2] Google Insights for Search, 2009.

Though some may recoup from the holiday season with food-coma enduced naps, many overcome the post-holiday blues with a few purchases. In fact, 62% of shoppers plan to shop after the holidays. And, even more surprising, 10% won’t even begin purchasing until after the holidays have ended. [1]

In looking at indexed search volume using Google Insights for Search, we find that traffic in the shopping category actually peaked on December 26th during the 2008 holiday season. And, not surprisingly, much of the post-holiday season is about seeking out sales. In fact, as we see below, searches for "sales" peak on December 26th. Similarly, searches in the product review category, as well as, searches for “returns” increase sharply post-Christmas.

Most important to note is that shoppers are turning to the web not only to research post-holiday sales, product information, and where to return/exchange their gifts, but also to buy. According to the Google/Compete Daily Search Barometer, conversion rates to top retail sites rebounded immediately following the holidays in 2008 and increased to levels that were on par with November conversion rate levels.

So though the post-holiday doldrums may get us down, there's nothing like a little retail therapy to recoup and revive. Consumers will be heading online this post-holiday season to do just that.

Source: [1] Google/OTX Consumer Intentions for Holiday 2009, September 2009. n= 2002. [2] Google Insights for Search, 2009. [3] Google/Compete Daily Search Barometer, 11/09. Analysis based on top 450 retail sites.

Procrastination just may be the main shopping strategy for shoppers this year. According to Google Insights for Search, search traffic on 'last minute gifts' and related terms spike in the days immediately before Christmas:

'last minute gifts'
December 2008

'last minute deals'
December 2008

'shipping by christmas'
December 2008

Keep in mind that shoppers will be looking for last minute gifts, deals, and shipments through Christmas Eve. Make sure that your budgets are optimized to capture this last minute traffic, and that you are bidding competitively in the days leading up to Christmas. You should also ensure that your ad text is enticing to last-minute shoppers and that it clearly states shipping deadlines so that your customers have a clear idea of whether or not you'll be able to ship gifts in time.

For the first 36 days of the November-December Holiday Season*, comScore reports online holiday sales up 4% year over year, with last week's sales up 5% year over year. Better yet, historical buying behavior dictates that the most important shopping weeks are yet to come; during the last few years, the three weeks prior to Christmas represented approximately 45% of total online holiday sales.

Our posts this week have focused primarily on retailers' considerable opportunities in e-commerce sales during the final weeks of the Holiday Season, but it's also worth noting an additional avenue for success among those merchants whose sales span across channels.The increasing frequency with which consumers are researching online before purchasing offline offers additional possibilities for stimulating sales in physical stores through the use of web-based marketing and promotions.

Using Google Insights for Search to do a year over year analysis of search volume for terms such as “store locator”, “store locations” and “printable coupons”, we can see that consumer interest in conducting web research prior to making an in-store purchase is growing rapidly. The visual below also depicts two periods in which annual demand for information about physical stores typically peaks - the first occurs over Thanksgiving Weekend and the second during those days immediately preceding Christmas.

Given both that search volume for the term "store locator" over Thanksgiving Weekend 2009 increased by 342% when compared to the same period in 2007, and that the second expected surge in demand (occurring just before Christmas) has historically been even more dramatic then the first, retailers will want to ensure that they are well-prepared; regardless of where the ultimate transaction occurs, consumers are increasingly viewing shopping as a cross-channel experience.

Source: Google Insights for Search, comScore 2009

With record e-commerce sales reported last week and top e-commerce days still to come, how far along are consumers in completing their holiday shopping and purchasing? Our recent Google/OTX Consumer Pulse Check survey reveals that as of Sunday, December 6th, consumers, on average, have a whopping 64% of shopping left to complete.

Compared to the week before Thanksgiving, that's a decrease of 18 percentage points. This indicates that while consumers completed 18% of their shopping over the busy Thanksgiving week, with just over two weeks until Christmas, shoppers have plenty of purchasing still to do.

While the average shopper still has many gifts to buy, also of note is that many have not even begun. In fact, we found that 19% of holiday shoppers have not started researching their holiday purchases and 29% had yet to purchase a single gift for their loved ones.

Though excellent news for retailers headed into the next few weeks, we certainly hope none of these last minute shoppers are related to us!

National Free Shipping Day is quickly approaching, marking the start of shipping cut-offs on Thursday, December 17th. Using Google Insights for Search, we've found that search volume for 'free shipping' has increased steadily over the last several years and is trending well above last year's levels.

During the 2008 holiday shopping season, searches for "free shipping" peaked on key shopping days and remained consistently high through December 18th. Likewise, in partnership with Compete, Inc., we've found that not only do searches for shipping increase through the shipping deadlines but so do conversion rates. In fact, conversion rates on top retail sites showed significant and steady increases through the shipping cut-off deadlines last year. In fact, Tuesday, December 16, 2008 marked the highest retail conversion rates, exceeding even Black Friday and Cyber Monday during the 2008 holiday season.

So as your shipping cut-offs approach, be sure that you are communicating these important dates to your shoppers and that you are capturing these ready-to-buy consumers through your online marketing efforts.

Source: Google/Compete Daily Search Barometer, 11/2009. Analysis based on top 450 retail sites.

With the success of Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, what's ahead for the rest of December? When we spoke with consumers we found that 42% of them plan to complete the majority of their purchases in early/mid December while 6% plan to wait until the last minute. Combined, that's almost half of consumers that still need to complete the majority of their holiday shopping - a promising sign for retailers headed into the rest of December.

When we take a look at e-commerce spend from 2008, we see a similar story with comScore reporting around $16.2 billion in online sales from Thanksgiving through Christmas last year. The week before Christmas accounted for a surprising 20% of these sales - that's purchases that happened after the start of the December 18th shipping cut-offs. Similarly, the weekend before Christmas saw a 98% increase in e-commerce sales in 2008 compared to the same time frame in 2007.
Is Santa arriving late this year? Are consumers more comfortable than ever making last minute purchases via the online channel? Time will tell but many signs point to a successful December and a successful last-minute holiday shopping season.

Source: comScore, 2008

Headed into the weekend, what are your plans? A big night out or maybe a big night in? It turns out many of us may be ditching weekend getaways and late nights to spend some time shopping online. Using Google Insights for Search, we've found that searches in the Shopping category have upticked on weekends over the last 90 days. Consumers are turning to the web on Saturday and Sunday to complete their research and make purchases online, especially during this busy shopping season.

In partnership with Compete, Inc., we've also seen that time spent on retail sites peaks on the weekends and that conversion rates too tend to increase on these days.

So whether your site's visitors are browsing or buying, ensure that you reach these weekend warrior shoppers through your online marketing campaigns.

[1] Google/Compete Daily Search Barometer, 11/2009. Analysis based on top 450 retail sites.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday's hot searches were for apparel, electronics and toys, consumers are also seeking more thoughtful gifts.

In the last month, searches for "personalized holiday gifts" have increased 160%. Other popular searches were "unique personalized gifts" and "personalized photo gifts". While traditional gift items, like electronics, are making a come back, people want to retain the sentiment of the holiday season.

As it is said, it's the thought that counts. Searches for homemade gifts have skyrocketed. "Homemade christmas gifts", "homemade gift ideas" and "homemade christmas ormanments" have grown 70% or more. A personal touch, along with a smaller price tag, are likely drivers.

Be sure to be on your best behavior leading into the holidays. "Best christmas gifts" is a top search, but "good christmas gifts" are more highly sought than "great christmas gifts". Here's hoping to get a great one!

What spreads faster than office gossip? A good deal! And the word is out about Black Friday. The novelty of Black Friday seems to have jumped borders, leapt across oceans and taken root outside of the U.S.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., has enjoyed a notable boost in awareness and importance for U.S. consumers and retailers alike. For consumers Black Friday has become associated with doorbuster deals and a day of pavement pounding, route planning, all-out shopping strategery. In more recent years the traditional Black Friday deals have extended to the internet leading to a blossoming of online purchasing on Black Friday.

This year Black Friday has gone global. After all, who wouldn’t want a good deal?

“Black Friday” was the top rising search term in Brazil, Japan and Israel and the second fastest rising in France and Sweden within the “Shopping” category over the last 7 days (week ending Sunday, Nov 29. Google Insights for Search. Rising searches are searches that have experienced significant growth in a given time period, with respect to the preceding time period ) (Interesting, but not surprising, to note the searches were performed in English as opposed to the local language).

What does this mean for retailers in the U.S.? Could this be an opportunity for those who ship internationally, distribute through local retailers internationally and/or have store locations abroad?

Apple seems to think so. This year Apple promoted their one-day-sale in several countries including Brazil and Sweden. (see Gizmodo report for more examples)

…did Apple help to drive those international searches on the term "Black Friday" or did Apple offer the promotion in response to pre-existing interest in Black Friday internationally? Like the 'chicken or the egg' we may never know, but we can say with certainty that the interest is there and the opportunity is ripe.

As can be expected, "cyber monday online deals", "cyber monday discounts" and "cyber monday bargains" topped the list of yesterday's Google Hot Trends.

Building on Black Friday popularity, "best buy cyber monday 2009 deals" indicated consumers continued to shop for electronics. The most sought after toys yesterday were "zhu zhu pets" and "american girl". Given their prevalence over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, keep an eye on toys and consumer electronics as the rest of the holiday shopping season unfolds.

A useful resource for spotting and tracking hot gift trends is Google Hot Trends. Google Hot Trends is a fun and free resource that enables you to track the fastest rising searches each day, as they are happening. You see immediately when there's late breaking news, or in this case, which gifts were the hottest for Cyber Monday.

Although the kickoff weekend of the official holiday shopping season is behind us, there is plenty of shopping left to be done. Last minute shopping, Free Shipping Day and the Christmas shipping cutoff are in front of us. You can use Google Hot Trends to stay ahead and keep your fingers on the pulse of what people are searching for.