Let’s face it, attracting holiday shoppers in our Christmas encrusted market has become a major challenge. So what are marketers doing? Jumping the gun, the fruitcake anyway. According to Nielson, never mind your what your ears tell you, sleigh bells start ringing for retailers in October. But is earlier marketing actually increasing overall traffic? More importantly, does it convert to healthier sales and more valuable customers?

No matter what the payoff may be today of decking-the-halls early, it’s not sustainable. If we keep letting the winter holidays cannibalize the rest of our marketing calendars (with Christmas reigning supreme as the worst offender), there’s going to come a point where we start the holiday season right alongside back-to-school shopping.

Here are a few ideas that will keep the ho-ho-ho’s in the holiday where they belong:

HOLI-DON’T #1: Any deal will appeal!

To stand out, it’s become ‘go big or they’ll go home’ for every retailer out there. Holiday discounts? Same schtick. But those holiday shoppers have gotten wise. They’ve been trained that if they wait, someone will have a better deal. Doesn’t matter if it’s from you, or who knows who, so long as they ring in the savings.

Is that the long-time repeat customer you’re looking for? How are you going to keep them coming back? At some point, the only deeper deal is ‘free.’ So why are you training every single shopper to be a fickle deal hunter?

HOLI-DO TIP #1: Dig into your data. Give a gift to the customers you already have! Take a tip from those carols you’ve been trying to ignore since they got put on continuous repeat: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver but the other gold.” Offer your already loyal customers the discounts they deserve. Personalize the promotions you send, because those will cut through the clutter and you’ll keep those customers for another year.

HOLI-DON’T #2: Discount til you drop!

RetailMeNot found 30% of shoppers are waiting until Christmas week to do the bulk of their holiday shopping. After all, that’s when the deals happen! You’ve been given one of those ‘last-minute gifts,’ putting you on the receiving end of the 91% of Americans who wait until the final hour before pulling out their wallets. The challenge those shoppers face is making sure those gifts get wrapped in time.

Fueled by holiday cheer, and not much of that, late shoppers are looking for a guarantee that the gift they’re giving will actually get there. If you have physical stores, make sure your customers know it. If you don’t, no discount is worth the possibility of Little Timmy left in tears, looking under the tree for the hoverboard that never arrived.

HOLI-DO TIP #2: Deliver on your promises. Rudolf can teach us a thing or two here. It doesn’t matter if they’re naughty or nice, a guaranteed delivery and free shipping will win you customers, even against the deepest deals. Mixing online ordering with in-store pick-up, or a price-match promise, will also get you on their list and keep you there when they check it twice.

“Shopping in-store helps eliminate the stress of arrival dates of packages, and retailers have become savvier in listening to customer needs and providing options like ‘buy online, pick up in-store’ and price-match guarantees.” – Marissa Tarleton, CMO, RetailMeNot

HOLI-DON’T #3: Sales for days!

Every year, the holidays bring in a whole pile of new customers for every retailer and brand. This is the one time of year when almost no one is shopping for themselves, so they wind up in stores they’d never consider if they didn’t have a stocking to fill. Holiday shopping done right can be a time of wonder and joy, with customers discovering new products they’ll be wanting to come back for later.

But all that opportunity is lost if you don’t have a way to find those new customers once the New Year comes around. Even more importantly, do you know what they’d be buying if they weren’t buying for someone else? Can you tell what’s a gift and what’s not? Letting them slip away and be forgotten is pretty bad, but mistaking them for the person they were getting a gift for can be even worse.

HOLI-DO TIP #3: Show you know them. Or at least, ask them. If you haven’t planned ahead to capture your holiday shoppers, you can at least let them know you noticed them. After all the holiday cheer, they’ll appreciate Santa asking them what they want, not just on Christmas day, but the rest of the year.

So when to start decking the halls?

The truth is, it’s never too early to make that list so you have time to check it twice. Sure, to get inventory lined up and products picked, planning for the holidays has to start in the summer, but your customers don’t need to know that.

What they need to know is that by the time the holidays are around the corner, you’ve already done your research. How will they know? Because you’ll be keeping in touch throughout the year. Get your segmentations set, make sure you’re sending personalized emails, and if you really want to impress, line up your social ads and create a SMS strategy you can roll out when, and only when, the time is right. Give them the gift everyone asks for during the holidays: peace.

Oh, and don’t worry, with marketing automation you’ll be able to get your own holiday shopping done too.