To kick off our 2016 Benchmark Report series, we went back to our data set of hundreds of ecommerce retailers, over 30 million customer, and $25+ billion in transactions. This time, we wanted to learn more about the unique characteristics of the holiday shopper.

(If you want to skip straight to the full report, go for it.)

Our assumption was that this shopper would be significantly less valuable than customers acquired during non-holiday months. Holiday shoppers are notorious bargain-shoppers, they expect free shipping, and they tend to have high return rates. On top of high service costs, these customers might not even be in your target market. Holiday shoppers are buying gifts. That person who just bought a lady’s cashmere sweater may never buy another lady’s cashmere sweater again, ever.

Of course, these are just assumptions. And we wanted to test them against data. Here are five surprising things we uncovered in our research.

1. If you want to grow your customer base, the holidays are the time to do it.

On average, customers acquired during the holiday season comprise 24% of the total customer base in an ecommerce store. That’s incredible! An average two-month period should bring in 16.6% of a store’s new customers, but we’re seeing November and December clock in at customer acquisition numbers 29% and 59% higher than average respectively.

2. Customers acquired during the holidays aren’t that different from customers acquired year-round.

Our assumption was that holiday shoppers represent a different type of customer, one that’s less likely to be your core target market. But, this doesn’t seem to be the case. While overall they are slightly less valuable (more on that later), the differences aren’t massive. They perform similarly on metrics like Average Order Value (AOV), Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), and repeat purchase rates.

We can’t say exactly what’s behind these similar shopping patterns, but the data seems to indicate that shoppers are using the holidays as a time to discover new stores and unique items, not just for gift recipients, but also for themselves. Keep in mind, the average holiday shopper spends $130 “self-gifting.” That’s a big opportunity to draw in a new crowd of potential customers with the holiday sales you’re running.

3. The best time to remarket to holiday shoppers is during the same holiday season.

Of new holiday customers that made a second purchase, 39% of them made that purchase during the same holiday season. While there’s a small uptick during the following holiday season, it pales in comparison to the opportunity of the 30 days after first purchase. For retailers, this means your holiday acquisition strategy should go hand-in-hand with a retention strategy.

4. Holiday customers are slightly less valuable than other customers, so adjust acquisition spend accordingly.

The holidays are a major opportunity to grow your customer base, and for ecommerce retailers focused on rapid growth, the sacrifice in customer value is often worth it. But it’s important to know what you’re dealing with. Here’s how holiday customers stack up against non-holiday customers:

Metric Non-Holiday Customer Holiday Customer Difference
AOV $78.58 $73.99 -6%
Number of Orders 1.88 1.75 -7.2%
CLV $147.85 $129.74 -13%

Advertising costs also tend to increase during the holidays. So get in the game, but be sure that come January 1st, you’re net positive on your acquisition spend.

5. Different ecommerce categories are impacted by the holidays to various degrees.

Last year in our holiday research, we noticed that some ecommerce categories respond very differently to the holidays. We bucketed these into “holiday-sensitive”, those that generate a large percent of total annual during the holidays; and “holiday-insensitive” segments, those whose monthly revenues are more consistent throughout the year.

Not surprisingly, holiday-sensitive categories (Computers/Electronics and Apparel/Accessories) rely more heavily on the holidays as an acquisition strategy, acquiring 26% of their total customers during the holidays. For holiday-insensitive categories (Food/Drug, Health-Beauty, and Housewares/Home Furnishings), only 22% of customers are acquired during the holidays.

Get more insights like this

If you want more insights like this, read the full Ecommerce Holiday Customer Benchmark. It has eight interactive charts and tables, and is packed with data-driven guidance for online retailers. And be sure to subscribe to our blog if you want to be kept in the loop on new research! We have two more research reports scheduled for release in Q1 of 2016.