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The Essential Guide to Holiday Promotions for E-Commerce Stores

16 min read

For retailers, there’s no better season for business than the holiday season. As Summer fades into Fall, and Fall into Winter, shoppers splurge on holiday gifts and goodies for their loved ones. Especially after a global pandemic has kept millions of people in their cities and homes, leaving vacation budgets untouched.

Holiday Season E-commerce Retail Spendings

Festive season spending in the United States (Deloitte)

How can your e-commerce store take advantage of this extra boost to the holiday season? How should you plan promotions, email campaigns, and discounts to maximize sales? What are the best promo channels for your store?

This post will give you the lowdown on all the holiday promotion ideas you need, and more!

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The Holiday Season at a Glance

Maybe you’re still on the fence about maximizing your holiday promotions.

In that case, this chart might change your mind:

Top 10 Consumer Spending Events

The holiday season in 2019 was the most profitable period for retailers (both online and offline). United States citizens spent over 1 trillion dollars on gifts in 2019 (NRF).

This represents the total amount of consumer spending during all holidays in the US in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. As you can see, the 2019 winter holiday sales accounted for $1,047.83 billion.

Clearly, shoppers are spending massive amounts of money during the holiday season. For e-commerce store owners, this is an opportunity to cash in big.

When Should You Plan Your Holiday Promotions?

The short answer is: as early as possible.

Pinterest advises you should start your holiday promotions in late September or early October.

Traditionally, the shopping season doesn’t begin in earnest until late November (after Thanksgiving). But more and more consumers are starting their shopping early to beat the seasonal rush and take advantage of Halloween promotions.

In fact, a Facebook holiday shopping survey revealed that 1 in 5 US consumers starts holiday shopping in October or earlier. According to the Deloitte Consumer Survey, the amount of shoppers who started hitting the shops early in October was a whopping 39 percent.

Christmas online shopping insights by Facebook

US shoppers start the holiday season spree early in October (Facebook)

All this means it’s a good idea to start your promotions in early October. That way, your marketing machinery is firing on all cylinders in time for the biggest sales day of the year—Black Friday!

With this in mind, let’s take a look at how to plan your promotions.

Preparing Your Online Store for the Holiday Promos

Before you tackle a full-blown promotional campaign, it’s important to prep your business for the holiday rush.

Here’s how:

Step 1. Create a holiday promotional calendar

It helps to have a detailed overview of where and when you’ll run promotions. For this, you’ll need the following:

  • A list of targeted holiday promos: Figure out when your business sells most of its goods, and use that info to make a list of target holidays. As a rule, if you sell cheap, “impulse buys”, your sales will come either in the first half of the season, or right before big holidays. If you sell expensive, decision-intensive products, most shoppers will wait until November in hopes of a discount.
  • A list of promotion materials: Gather all your promotion materials—emails, graphics, banners, ads, etc—and separate them by the holiday. That means all your Halloween-themed promos go in one folder, Black Friday-themed promos in another. Then check to see if there are any graphics or ads you can repurpose for multiple holiday promos.

It’s important to remember that shoppers don’t always limit themselves to 1-2 days of shopping, but often spread their purchases across several days.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday should be a focal point of your sales promotion, it’s a good idea to use promotions throughout the holiday period.

10 Days to Your Holiday Season Sale

It's time to prepare for your holiday season sales! Download our free planner to guide you on your merry way.

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Step 2. Make sure your website is available

The last thing you want this holiday season is for your web host to go down, or your website CMS to break. Before you start promoting, make sure that you’ve prepped your website for the avalanche of traffic ahead.

  • Upgrade to a faster webhost. Learn about how your webhost handles its infrastructure for the holiday rush. Make sure the host can cope with a big traffic spike. If not, it might be time for a change.
  • Get a CDN. This will make your website load much faster. This is crucial since 90% of shoppers will abandon a slow site—according to the latest Retail System Research report.
  • Make your website mobile-friendly. 67.2% of all e-commerce purchases in 2019 were made from mobile phones, according to Merchant Savvy research. M-commerce sales broke records on both Black Friday ($2.9B) and Cyber Monday (US$ 3.1B). By making your website mobile-friendly you can tap into this massive market, while also giving your SEO a boost.

Step 3. Establish social media presence

As an ecommerce store owner, you already know that social media represents a massive opportunity. Facebook alone has 2.7 billion users, while Twitter’s audience is 330 million, and Instagram boasts 1 billion users.

Social media plays an important role in holiday promos as well. According to Deloitte’s Holiday Survey of Consumers, 23% of consumers turn to social media help with their holiday shopping.

To take full advantage of social media, make sure you have the following:

  • Profiles on each of the top 4 social networks—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
  • Links on your profiles back to a holiday-themed site landing page with active promotions/contests/deals.
  • Profiles with holiday-themed cover images and profile pictures. Think pumpkins and zombies for Halloween, snowmen and Santa Claus for Christmas.
  • Offers “pinned” to the top of the feed on Facebook and Twitter and announced in your Instagram bio.
  • A spot on the Pinterest holiday rush train. Shoppers actively use Pinterest to make inspired decisions. And pinners that report Pinterest helps with “everything Holiday.”

Step 4. Promotion infrastructure and tools

Have you completed funnels with landing pages and emails for the holiday season sales?

If not, you need to prep your infrastructure for holiday promotions, pronto!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • An email marketing tool. This will send out all your promotional emails, newsletters and autoresponder sequences. Some vetted options are MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, and InfusionSoft.
  • A landing page tool. You’ll need this to create holiday-themed promo pages and to capture leads and sales. Pick from LeadPages, Instapage, or Unbounce.
  • Analytics software. This will help you figure out where your traffic and sales are coming from, and how you should plan your marketing. Google Analytics is a good free choice, but you can also try KISSMetrics and Mixpanel. Ecwid store owners can see all the important store stats in the “Reports” section of their control panel.
  • A social media marketing tool. Social media is a big channel for retailers. According to our survey, 65% of Ecwid merchants use social media to promote their products. To take advantage, you’ll need something to schedule your social media content. HootSuite and Buffer are all viable options.
  • A blogging tool. A blog will help you show up in search results when someone is on the hunt for gift idea inspiration. Try for blog posts with titles that match what your customer might be searching for. Ex: “gifts for ___ lover(s)”, “thoughtful gift”, “unique gift”, or “gift for someone who has everything (or wants nothing)”. A blog will also help you connect to your shoppers and build brand loyalty. This can be crucial in a fickle market. We recommend using WordPress for your blog if you’re just starting out.
  • pop-up tool. You’ll need this to capture leads and offer discounts/deals to shoppers. Some pop-up tools like BounceExchange even use behavioral targeting to show offers to cart-abandoning visitors. Other options include Picreel and LeadPages.

Do you need a beautiful and fast website to establish your brand presence online? Learn How to Create a WordPress E-Commerce Website.

Planning Your Holiday Marketing

Now that you’ve done the prep work, it’s time to start planning your holiday marketing campaign.

There are two main components: targeting the right channels and using the right promotions.

Let’s take a more detailed look:

Choose the right marketing channels

Facebook, Twitter, content marketing, AdWords — there are more marketing channels today than you can count. Which should be your main focus point? Which can you ignore?

Here are some things you must know before choosing a marketing channel:

Budget. Not all marketing channels cost the same. PPC (AdWords), for example, demand a much larger budget than inbound marketing. If you have the budget for it, we recommend paid advertising. But if not, there are “free” methods such as social media and content marketing. There, your only investment is time.

Existing expertise. It’s better to focus on a channel you already understand than to waste time mastering a new marketing medium. If you (or someone on your team) is a keyword expert, focus on AdWords. If you are a meme queen, focus on content marketing. If you are good at photography, head over to Instagram, and so on.

Audience demographics. Ask yourself: where are my target customers most likely to hang out? If you sell hearing aids, you might not see a lot of results from social media. Similarly, if you sell business gifts, you’ll do better on LinkedIn than on Facebook. Take a look at this page to better understand social network demographics. Generally speaking, LinkedIn is for business, Pinterest is popular with crafty women, and SnapChat and Instagram speak to millennials.

Product type. Pick a marketing channel that fits your product type. For example, lifestyle, food, and fashion-related products do well on platforms that promote discovery, (like Pinterest and Instagram). Tech-related products perform better on channels like blogs that offer shoppers research and reviews.

This will help you choose the right platform(s) to target with selected promotions.

Holiday Shopping is Changing

Use the right promotions

The wrong promotion can kill even the best laid holiday marketing plans. So before you spend a penny on a marketing channel, it’s important to think your personalized promotion plan all the way through.

Here are some pointers for your journey into the promotional woods:

Double down on email. According to Tinuiti data, 58.5% of shoppers said they are likely to make a purchase triggered by a promotion they received through email. That means doubling down on email marketing during this season will likely see great returns.

Free shipping is crucial. According to Deloitte research, 72% of shoppers expect free shipping offers from online merchants. Free shipping is a major purchase driver compared to BOGO offers and Cash Back incentives.

The moral of the story: offer free shipping during your holiday promotions, at least for orders above a certain threshold (like $50). Then make sure that customers know about this deal—usepop-up or a bold graphic to hype up your free shipping offer.

Deals. Deals. And more deals! Google data studies show that price is an important factor for 90% of shoppers. 92% of them compare prices online to get the best bargain before hitting “buy.”

Your customers expect great deals during the holiday season. If you want to capture and retain their attention, make sure you come through with those steep discounts.

Encourage loyalty. Forbes found that the primary reason for 50% of consumers to join a loyalty program was to earn rewards on everyday purchases. Also, 87% of consumers were open to brands monitoring details of their activity if it led to more personalized rewards.

Keep this in mind when planning your promotions. Find out who your most loyal customers are, then give them rewards/discounts to encourage continued loyalty.

Don’t forget gift cards. In the frenzy of holiday season deals, it’s easy to forget about this long-standing promotional work-horse. The humble gift card still represents big business. Statista data shows that gift card market value worldwide exceeded $358 billion in 2019. A Deloitte Holiday Consumer Survey found that 53% of consumers purchased gift cards or certificates. The average spent on gift cards per person last holiday season was $129.

Keep this in mind when planning your promotions. Make sure shoppers can easily buy gift cards from your website or physical store. You can sell gift cards in your Ecwid store out of the box, no third party apps required.

Run better contests. Contests are old hat in the marketing world, but for good reason: they work. The hard part is standing out in a season where every other business seems to run its own contest.

Keys to running a successful holiday contest:

  • Select the right prizes: Offer something that is relevant to your target customers. Ex: if your customers love to travel, offer them quality travel gear as a prize.
  • Make it social: One way to encourage shares is to connect the contest to social media. For example, you can give participants extra entries for every referral they make, thereby encouraging shares.

If you’re new to online contests, here are 25 proven contest ideas to promote your online business.


The holiday season can be tough for store owners, but it is also a time of amazing possibility. Making the most of your shop’s potential for profits might be hard work, but the returns are well worth it.

Just remember: start early, focus on social content, and offer plenty of deals to win over customers. Now get out there and make that holiday cheddar. You can thank us in the new year!


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About the author

Lina is a content creator at Ecwid. She writes to inspire and educate readers on all things commerce. She loves to travel and runs marathons.

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