The Ecommerce Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

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The holiday shopping season, starting with Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM), is the most lucrative time of the year for online sellers.

And with many brick-and-mortar stores limiting the number of in-store shoppers, the 2021 holiday season is destined to be a record-breaking year for online shopping.

In this article, we’re going to outline how to prepare your online store for the busy shopping season and how to create an effective holiday email marketing strategy. We’ll also share some email examples for inspiration.

Plan Your Calendar Ahead of Time

Like any endeavor, proper preparation prevents poor performance. Start planning your email marketing calendar early, so you have enough time to create the best possible versions of all of your campaigns.

One thing to note about sending emails around the holidays is that you can get away with sending more emails than usual. While your subscribers might get burnt out if you send five emails a week in the middle of March, they are less likely to get email fatigue around the holidays.

Here are a few key dates that you should remember when creating your calendar.

  • Black Friday – This is obviously the big one, but don’t just send an email on Friday morning. Use the week leading up to Black Friday to let people know what sort of sales they can expect. What should you include in your Black Friday emails? Deals. Everyone is looking for deep discounts.
  • Small Business Saturday – We love Small Business Saturday because it empowers makers and doers. Let people know how important their business is to your small store.
  • Cyber Monday – Cyber Monday is becoming just as big as Black Friday, so treat it similarly.
  • Last weekend before Christmas  – People love to procrastinate, especially when it comes to holiday shopping. That’s why it’s no surprise that the Saturday before Christmas is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
  • Last day to order to receive items before Christmas (with standard shipping and with express shipping) – Last-minute shoppers sometimes need a nudge to make a purchase. Remind them that they need to order ASAP to get their products in time.
  • New Year’s Eve or Day  – The holiday season doesn’t end on the 26th. Plenty of people love to celebrate the New Year with a gift for themselves or their special someone.
  • Holiday follow-ups – Holiday follow-ups are great for a few reasons. First, they plant the seed for a relationship that extends past the holidays. And secondly, it’s a great time to market to people who didn’t get exactly what they wanted.

By planning ahead of time, you can create emails targeting prepared shoppers and last-minute shoppers alike.

Segment Your Subscribers

We’ve talked at length about the downsides of batch and blast emails, but here’s the long and short of it: sending the exact same message to your entire email subscriber list is a waste of time, money, and energy. Instead, you need to segment your audiences so you can cater to their specific wants and needs.

While there are infinite ways to segment your lists, here are some ideas on how to segment your lists for holiday email campaigns:

  • New Subscribers – These are people who have just signed up for your emails within the past 30 days. Strike while the irons hot and send personalized messages based on their browsing habits.
  • Loyal Customers – These are people who have purchased from your store 3+ times. You know they love your products, so let them know that your products also make great gifts!
  • Active Customers – Active customers have purchased something from you within the past 30-90 days. These customs are great targets for cross-selling by recommending related products.
  • Inactive Customers – Inactive customers have not purchased anything recently. These customers can be harder to engage with, so make sure to offer a great incentive.
  • Previous Year Customers – Some shoppings will only visit your store during the holiday season, most likely because they know their friends and family like your products – plan your messaging accordingly.
  • Demographic segments – Use demographic data to cater to mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, etc. You can also use location data to highlight products that typically sell well in that region.

For more information on segmenting your subscribers, read this post on email list segmentation.

Personalize Your Email Content

If you have data on your subscribers, use that to your advantage. And we’re not just talking about using their name in the subject line or in the body of the email.

Start by using browsing and previous purchase data to cross-sell. From there, you can create buyer personas based on that data and other demographic data. For example, if someone is a 30-something man who buys children’s toys around the holidays, you can assume he has children or nieces and nephews (or likes toys himself – we’re not judging).

Use these personas to craft targeted messages.

Don’t Forget About Automations

We hope you already have automations set up for your online store. These include things like welcome emails, abandoned cart recovery, browse abandonment, and replenishment reminders.

Update your marketing automations around the holidays to be more holiday-specific. For instance, add a line to your abandoned cart message to let prospective customers know that your holiday sale ends soon.

Use a Multi-Channel Approach

This article is about email marketing, but don’t forget about SMS. Using email and SMS in conjunction is a surefire way to increase your engagement rates.

SMS is great for more urgent automations like back-in-stock alerts and cart abandonment recovery.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Speaking of urgency, make sure people know that there is limited time to order or that your stock is running low.

Holiday email marketing example from On Running

For example, we love how this email from On Running shows subscribers when they need to order by in order to take advantage of free shipping (although we would prefer if they used location data to segment this message).

Make Your Call to Action Easy to Find

Emails without a clear CTA are one of our biggest pet peeves. When a user opens an email, they want to be told what to do. Don’t leave them guessing at making your CTA bold and easy to find.

Often, when an email campaign is underperforming, the first thing experiences marketers look at is the email design and CTA. 

Make Your Holiday Subject Lines Stand Out

You’re going to be fighting for visibility in people’s inboxes on BFCM, so make sure your message stands out. Subject lines and preheaders are the biggest factors affecting open rates, so don’t ignore them. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your discount is upfront.
  • Use urgency.
  • Use your subscriber’s names.
  • Test out emojis.
  • Play to their aspirations.

And here are a few holiday email subject lines to get your creative juices flowing:

  •  ⏰ 40% Black Friday Deals End TODAY ⏰
  • Hey Denise, Today’s Your Last Chance for FREE Shipping. ✈️
  • Be the hero this holiday season. 20% off all kid’s toys 🧸
  • Find the perfect gift for that special someone. 20% off until Monday.
  • Holiday Gift Ideas + Storewide Savings
  • Gift Guides for the Whole Family
  • 🚨 50% Off on Cyber Monday 🚨



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