Presents that people were compelled to buy, probably by great email marketing. Presents that people were compelled to buy, probably by great email marketing.

6 email strategies to compel holiday audiences to take action (2020 update)

‘Tis the heart of the holiday shopping season—after Black Friday and Cyber Monday but before the serious shipping deadlines really show up in earnest. According to data from Adobe, customers spend an average of 40 percent more per day during the three weeks following Cyber Monday than they did the prior three weeks.

For eCommerce businesses, the holiday season presents an immense opportunity—as well as an immense challenge. Customers will be spending money, but with that spending comes even more competition from other stores, and your subscribers inboxes will be jammed with offers. So how can you use your email marketing to stand out?

We’ve previously covered how to stand out with your Black Friday and Cyber Monday email marketing and now, we’re going to cover how you can stand out and thrive during the rest of the lucrative holiday shopping season.

Here are six important strategies to compel holiday audiences to take action.

1. Highlight free, fast, and reliable shipping

If there’s one thing customers consistently want from eCommerce stores around the holidays, it’s good shipping options. So what exactly are “good shipping options”? 

First, customers want shipping to be free: 92 percent say that they plan to take advantage of free shipping during the holidays.

They also want shipping to be relatively fast: 80 percent say it’s important that retailers offer free two-day shipping, though 65 percent say they’ll accept slower delivery if there’s no cost.

Finally, they want shipping to be reliable: 98 percent say the delivery experience—setting expectations, following through, and communicating any changes—drives their loyalty to brands.

All of these points are also exacerbated here in 2020, as the pandemic has affected shipping’s cost, speed, and dependability. You need to make sure potential customers have faith the items they purchase from your store will arrive in time for the holidays.

Here’s how hits all three of the important shipping needs. This email, sent on December 14th, offers free shipping to people ordering by midnight. They also mention faster methods available at checkout. And they do something that really stands out from a lot of other stores—they guaranteed the order would be delivered by Christmas Eve or your purchase would be free. That’s a bold and smart way to give a customer peace of mind—if some unexpected delay happens and the gifts don’t arrive by Christmas, at least the customer won’t be on the hook for it. 

NFLShop's clever holiday shipping options.

2. Ease decision fatigue

Customers’ biggest complaint with online holiday shopping is lengthy shipping times, which is no surprise given what we’ve just covered. Their second biggest complaint: difficulty deciding among brand and product options.

This also shouldn’t be surprising. Around the holidays shoppers have to purchase many gifts in a short time while being bombarded with offers. In this context, having a plethora of choices is often a curse not a blessing.

That’s why helping with decision fatigue is a key way to get holiday email audiences to take action.

And yes, that means it can be beneficial to employ a somewhat counter-intuitive sales strategy—and limit the number of products in your campaigns. Here’s an example from last holiday season from UK-based furniture and lifestyle store Haus. They have thousands of products in their catalog but strategically chose just nine to promote in their email.

Haus offers a limited selection of products.

You can also reduce decision fatigue by providing context and authority. Include star ratings, reviews, and testimonials in your emails so that recipients quickly know that the products have other people vouching for them and they’re high-quality. Best Buy includes a section in their holiday emails (as well as many of their non-holiday emails) showcasing the four most-viewed items on their site, along with star ratings and a link directly to the reviews. The entire section is about social proof, which makes it easy for otherwise overwhelmed customers to focus in on four “vouched for” gift ideas.

Best Buy showcases popular products.

3. Deliver highly-relevant offers

The effectiveness of offers in holiday emails is a bit of a mixed bag. The data shows that holiday-themed emails with offers such as percent-off and dollar-off discounts generally have lower-than-average open rates and click-through rates but higher-than-average conversion rates. In other words, during this busy season consumers tend to ignore most offers in their inboxes, but are likely to take action on the ones they do look at.

So, which offers break through? Highly relevant ones. Three in five shoppers say they are more likely to purchase from retailers that send personalized offers and, conversely, one in three say their top frustration during the holiday season is receiving offers that are not relevant.

The key here is data. Understanding your audiences’ preferences and behaviors will enable you to use personalization or segmentation to send relevant, tailored campaigns.

Around the holidays, relevance can extend beyond personalization as well. If you can anticipate a customer’s needs at different points during the season, your email can feel like a personal life preserver just for them. Here’s an example of an email that Kohl’s sent on December 20th—aimed directly at the last-minute shoppers who need help. The email breaks down gift ideas into different price ranges; showcases that they have products for the home, women, men, and kids; and promotes the in-store pickup option.

Kohl's sends a relevant email.
Via: Milled.

4. Reinforce that you’re a trusted brand

Another consequence of shoppers feeling overwhelmed around the holidays is that they tend to shy away from new brands in their inboxes and turn to those they know and trust.

In fact, 63 percent of customers say they prefer holiday emails from their favorite brands and six percent won’t even look at holiday emails from senders who appear to be unfamiliar.

That’s why sending messages that reinforce existing relationships is so important around the holidays. Often these sorts of brand-building emails don’t spark immediate action. However, they do lay the groundwork. A quick little message that conveys holiday greetings can both build goodwill and subtly remind consumers that they’ve ordered from you in the past.

Here’s an email from jewelry company Brilliant Earth that went out on Thanksgiving and, as a result, began laying the groundwork for the holiday shopping season. The email isn’t selling anything—it’s just sending genuine holiday wishes to customers, showing off some customer photos, and reminding subscribers about the brand.

5. Offer gift cards (especially for last-minute shoppers)

What do people really want to get for the holidays? Gift cards.

According to data from the National Retail Federation, gift cards are the most requested thing on holiday wish lists, with 59 percent of people saying they hope to receive at least one this year.

Gift cards are also a big win for everyone else. For gift givers, they help with decision making, can be sent easily (often last-minute), and are unlikely to disappoint. For brands, they are easy to fulfill since there’s little logistical support needed.

Given all these advantages, keep gift cards in mind when crafting holiday campaigns, especially for procrastinators who may have missed shipping windows. A well-timed reminder of your offerings—such as this campaign from Spa Week that went out right before Christmas to highlight eCard options to ultra last-minute shoppers—can go a long way.

Spa Week offers last minute gift cards.
Via: Milled.

6. Showcase a good return policy

Finally, keep in mind the importance of returns for holiday shoppers.

77 percent of consumers say they plan to return at least some of their holiday gifts, with 19 percent saying they expect to return more than half of their presents. Moreover, three-quarters of shoppers say they check return policies before making a purchase, and 22 percent have backed out of a purchase because they didn’t like the policy.

What makes for a good return policy? Customers say they want a relatively lengthy window (30 days or longer) and no restocking fees. Easy return labels are also important (once again, it all comes back to shipping).

Your return policy doesn’t have to be front-and-center in your holiday emails, but including it can help undecided shoppers complete a purchase. For example, Janie and Jack ends this holiday email campaign with a clear reminder: “Returns ship free. Every day on every order.”

Janie and Jack's return policy.
Via: Beetle.

Key takeaways

The holiday season is a lucrative time for eCommerce stores—but also a competitive one. It’s important to use the right strategies in your email marketing campaigns to stand out from the crowd and compel customers to visit your store and buy from you.

Holiday audiences are most likely to take action on emails that come from trusted senders, that make their lives easier, and that provide the offers they want. So when you’re crafting your campaigns, here are six things to remember.

  • Showcase shipping. Shipping is the top consideration for a lot of holiday shoppers, so it should matter a lot to you as well. If you offer free, fast, and reliable options, make sure to highlight them.
  • Ease decision fatigue. Holiday shoppers can be overwhelmed by too many choices. Make their lives easier by showcasing well-reviewed products and curating gift options.
  • Deliver targeted offers. Shoppers don’t have the time or patience to deal with irrelevant offers around the holidays. Deliver targeted messages based on data whenever possible.
  • Reinforce that you’re a trusted brand. Holiday shoppers tend to gravitate toward brands they know. Lay a foundation for success by sending messages that remind shoppers they already know, like, and trust you.
  • Highlight your gift card offerings. Gift cards are prized by holiday shoppers, especially those scrambling at the last minute. Spark action by highlighting your various options in campaigns—especially campaigns that go out after it’s too late to guarantee Christmas delivery on shipped products.
  • Remember returns. When customers know that returns will be free and easy, it gives them peace of mind about making a purchase. A quick reminder of your returns policy in your emails can help spur action.