To say that the holidays is a critical time for retail is an understatement. For many retailers, the weeks leading up to Christmas can make or break the year. Competition is fierce, and shoppers are bombarded from all sides with deals to entice them to choose one retailer over another.

Interestingly, while personalized marketing has taken centre stage in the promotional strategies of many supermarkets in recent years, the holidays is one time where personalization might not feel like the best tool. Retail personalization is built on the idea that we can use purchase data from many transactions over time to predict what a customer will buy next. But during the holidays, many customers dramatically change their shopping habits. They prepare to host family and friends, indulge in treats, and purchase unique seasonal items. Add to this the fact that Christmas comes just once a year, and you end up with a scenario that is simply not designed for the usual personalized marketing strategies. A supermarket may need just a few weeks of transaction data to figure out your favourite brand of yogurt. But figuring out if your family normally buys a Christmas tree would take years.

But that doesn’t mean that personalized marketing must be thrown out altogether at the holidays. In fact, if used well, it just might be the thing that helps you win the most important weeks of the year and increase customer loyalty. Here are four ways to use personalization to make sure you are the shopping destination of choice for the holidays this year.

1.Forget Product Offers…use Store and Category Coupons

Personalization in retail is usually about getting highly specific items to the right customers. But for all the reasons above, choosing the right items can be tricky. This is the time to go broad with your offers. You may not know ahead of time exactly what’s going in the basket, but you do know customers will be doing a big holiday shop. Store and category level coupons can be the right tool to make sure you win that shop. These broad offers are always relevant. And you can leverage the fact that you are talking to your customers 1-to-1 to be strategic with who gets a smaller discount, and who gets a bigger one.

2.Give Some Hot Deals

Survey the circulars of the supermarkets in your area leading up to the holidays and you will see the same items over and over. You don’t need to be a prophet to know that turkeys, pies, and soda are going to be on the list of promotions this year. Savvy customers know this, and they will be comparing the prices on these key items to get the best deals. Personalization gives you a real advantage here. You may not be able to afford to give a crazy low price on turkeys for everyone, but you could do it for a small subset of highly valuable customers. They won’t find a lower price anywhere. And while you may lose a bit of margin on the turkey…you will win the big basket that comes with it.

3.Use Lifestyle Segments

People’s holiday traditions are changing. While many families still enjoy a traditional meal together, many also combine holiday staples with unique items from their own culture. People are also making different nutritional choices, which means plant-based or gluten-free alternatives may be on the table this year. If you are using lifestyle segmentation through the year to identify which customers are vegan, or buying traditional Asian foods, or choosing low-sugar options, you will be ready to highlight the right products for them at holiday time.

4.Spread the Load

Most often when we think about personalization, we think about driving sales through personalized offers. What is often overlooked is that personalization can be used to drive operational benefits as well. Every retailer deals with the issue of crowded stores and long checkout lines leading up to the holidays. While busy stores are good, they are also inconvenient for customers and can lead to reduced sales as customers rush to get out of the store or even abandon their shop. Personalized deals that are tied to a specific day of the week or even time of day can be a useful tool to spread the customer load more evenly. If Tuesday is your lowest-traffic day, an email to select shoppers with an exclusive “one day sale” on Tuesday can help shift the traffic patterns and ensure everyone has a smoother shopping experience.

Personalization product offers might not be the natural fit at holiday time that they are through the rest of the year. But with a few tweaks and a bit of creativity, personalization can still be a huge sales driver through the most important weeks of the year.