'Holiday shopping' used to fit neatly between Black Friday & the week before Christmas (or even Christmas Eve, for those last-minute shoppers); a look back at 2011 spend statistics, however, indicates a blurring of that timeline. Retailers, shop owners, and emarketers: if you're waiting until the post-Halloween lull to prep for major holiday sales upticks, it's time to rethink your strategy. According to Mastercard Spending Pulse, we saw some major sales volume dates throughout November 2011—even ahead of Black Friday. How early did we see spending at brick-and-mortar locations spike, in 2011? November 5th—two weeks and counting!

What does this mean for 2012 holiday shopping habits? Well, for starters, Black Friday—which once signaled the major gift-buying kickoff—is no longer the starting point. According to Ipsos, 54% holiday shoppers started shopping before Black Friday in 2011. Thanksgiving itself is nothing to frown at (what turkey coma?). Internet Retailer states that in 2011, $479M was spent on Thanksgiving day — up 18% from 2010. Even now, Halloween costumes aren't the only thing on consumers' minds: last year, 27% started their Christmas shopping before Halloween.

So, what can we expect for this year? Well, for one thing, an even greater increase in overall spend: a recent survey conducted by the National Retail Federation indicates that more than half of U.S. consumers will be shopping online this holiday season. And with internet sales comprising a quarter of all 2012 sales dollars, we know consumers will be shopping everywhere—and from anything.

Here are three must-do's for the holiday marketer or retailer:

Be competitive
Consumers expect special deals on pricing and shipping (free shipping, specifically, is widely expected by online consumers). Especially with Target joining the ranks of other price-matching retailers (which was recently announced by Internet Retailer) it's imperative that any discounts or competitive offerings are highlighted on your site and in your ad copy.

Be present, on all devices
Developing an ecommerce-enabled site is tough, but it's effort well-spent: 1 in 4 people used multiple devices to shop last year (Ispos) and roughly 9% of online sales came from mobile devices (IBM). And, mobile isn't going away, especially this holiday season: many users expect that a mobile- and tablet-optimized site of their preferred retailer will be available.

Be early

Roughly a third of all consumers target Cyber Monday as their gift-buying deadline (Ipsos). Promote your offerings early, through email marketing, AdWords, etc—whatever method necessary for connecting with your consumers as early as possible.

Happy (early) holidays, retailers!

Posted by Amy Ostrowski, The Google Retail Team

Note: graphic developed by Becky Chilowicz