12/11/2013 08:48 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

The Cloud: A Holiday Shopping Miracle

If Santa and his merry band of elves were real, it would take about 50 international distribution centers to re-stock his sleigh to deliver presents to millions of children around the world. 

As retailers prepare for their busiest time of year, they cannot rely on holiday magic to make this selling season a success. Instead, retailers are making a deliberate effort to engage with customers in new ways to better understand their individual preferences and the products they want to buy. 

This year, our IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark survey reported a 19.7 percent increase in Thanksgiving Day online sales as holiday shoppers once again went online for the best deals. This momentum set the stage for a record Black Friday with online sales growing 18.9 percent over the same period a year ago. 

Retailers that use cloud-based analytics and omni-channel commerce solutions will have an advantage over their competitors this holiday season. By using analytics platforms, retailers can better predict and respond to today's fickle holiday shopper. 

Central to their ability to deliver relevant offers to shoppers, retailers must also understand customers' unspoken expectations around brand engagement. Shoppers don't have much patience for retailers that don't -- or can't -- provide quick access to the right merchandise and product information at the right time. If what they want isn't in the store, they expect the ability to find it and ship it to their home. 

These sales triggers can be used to monitor demand for products, which is what today's merchants need to adapt their supply chains and move merchandise from stores and warehouses to consumers through same-day or second-day shipping. 

Moosejaw has done this by creating a virtual showroom for customers. Known for its "endless aisle" strategy, Moosejaw only stocks 4,000 to 5,000 product SKUs in its stores, while the warehouse used for fulfilling online orders holds about 120,000 product SKUs. Using mobile devices, customers and Moosejaw sales associates can stand in the store aisles and look at the breadth of product options, check warehouse stock and find desired items that can be shipped to the customer's home for free in only one or two days. 

Instead of losing in-store mobile sales, Moosejaw's "channel agnostic" approach works to blend sales channels and create a more holistic shopping experience for their customers. Retailers are becoming smarter about the inventory they procure and savvier about how they position those products online and physically in their stores. In order to move this merchandise, they need to get the communication right as well. These sales triggers can be analyzed and used to give each consumer a more personalized experience. Imagine a day when all promotions or adverts were for something you were likely to buy. This is the trend, and those retailers that use data and analytics to segment and target their communications will be the winners of tomorrow. 

This means being able to pinpoint a consumers' favorite colors, styles and preferences, as well as how they wish to engage with a brand and how they prefer to buy. Using cloud-based services, retailers can showcase products and promotions in real-time to consumers anytime, anywhere, including online, at home or on their mobile device while shopping in stores. 

To get omni-channel commerce right, retailers have to take a holistic view of all of their sales mediums to provide consumers a consistent shopping experience every time they interact with their brand. Cloud makes this possible and provides an easy on-ramp to adjust campaigns and experiment with entirely new capabilities on a trial basis, and with less financial risk. 

Instead of Santa, elves and reindeer, this year's holiday magic may come from the cloud.

To find out more about IBM's smarter commerce solutions, click here. Follow IBM on Twitter @ibm.