Holiday Email Marketing 101 for E-Commerce Stores

In a few weeks, your inbox will be filled with email offers from your favorite (and not-so-favorite) online stores. You’d think that with such a heavy volume, your customers might be getting a bit tired of email offers. Except all data shows that email marketing continues to remain one of the best performing marketing channels during the holiday season. Deals sent via email generated 27.3% of orders on Black Friday in 2016.

So how can your e-сommerce store take advantage of this massive sales opportunity this holiday season? This post will give you the answers, as well as seven surefire email types to include in your marketing plan.

The Foundation of a Successful Email Campaign

This is the part many e-сommerce storeowners get wrong: they dive headfirst into the campaign without first putting together a focused plan.

You’ll find that you can get way more out of your email marketing if you lay down a strong foundation first.

Study past campaigns

The best indicator of present success is past data. This is why your first step in the planning process should be to study past campaigns. Don’t spend too long doing this; your aim should be to see what ideas worked, what didn’t, and what segments responded the best to what offers.

At the very least, do the following:

Once you’ve done this, you should have a list of ideas that worked last year. You get bonus points if you can dig through data over multiple years and find ideas that worked across those years; these are your guaranteed wins.

Email marketing trend 2017: modular templates. They help you save time on creating your emails and add to your brand consistency.

Analyze your competition

While digging through your own data can tell you a lot, you’ll learn even more by seeing what your competitors are doing.

Do the following to make this work:

Once you have this data, check to see if there are any offers or ideas used by all competitors? Are there any ideas competitors repeat over several years?

If yes, these are your guaranteed wins.

Even if you don’t plan to model your campaign on your competitors’, it’s always a good idea to keep tabs on what your competitors are up to.

Stick to the holiday calendar

The days immediately before, after, and on the dates above will be critical for your email marketing campaign. For example, you might want to send an “early bird”, or “pre-holiday” offer before a holiday date (say, Black Friday). You might then want to send a “post-holiday” offer for the “late birds” the day after the holiday.

Make sure that your marketing revolves around this structure.

Related: 10 Smart Ways to Increase Email Signups for Your Store

Creating a Holiday Email Marketing Plan

If you’ve gone through the three steps above, you should have a ton of valuable data to tailor your campaign.

Your next step should be to create a concrete plan for every email.

This plan should at least have the following:

For example, here’s what your plan for each email should have:

You can use a shared spreadsheet, Google Calendar, or a project management tool such as Trello or Asana to create this plan. Once you’ve done all this spadework, you can start creating the actual emails in your campaign.

Tip: The most popular time to buy online is weekdays from 12-2pm and on Sunday evenings, so schedule your email campaigns around this time.

Learn more: 6 Popular Project Management Tools for Small Business (Pros and Cons)

7 Holiday Email Types that Work

Creating a great holiday email campaign is part art, part science.

The art part is leveraging great copywriting, design and subject lines to get people to open your emails.

Email marketing trend 2017: interactive content (lightweight GIFs, cinemagraphs, re-playing videos).

The science part is leveraging data to target the right customer segments with the right offers. Ecwid makes this easy by integrating directly with Mailchimp.

If you’re confused about what type of emails to send, here are seven email ideas that always work.

1. Help customers decide what to buy

Take a look at this:

That’s 3 million results for a single search term — “holiday gift guide”. Remove the quotes (for a broad search), and you get 47.7 million results.

This illustrates a crucial problem your customers have around the holidays: they don’t know what to buy. If you can help them make a decision, you’ll not only boost sales, but also establish yourself as a helpful brand. (Pro tip: people trust “helpful” brands more).

Here are a couple of examples of brands creating “buying guides” to help customers pick gifts around the holidays:

This is a super effective tactic and something your customers will love to see in their inboxes.

Email marketing trend 2017: responsive design. Keep your emails under 600px wide to make them look great on different devices.

2. Give customers a reason to buy

This will be the staple of your holiday email marketing campaign: discounts, offers, and deals. Your customers expect this; holidays, for them, are a time to get great deals on the products they like.

But not all promotions are equal; some get a better response than others. Refer to this chart from a study of over 100 retailers to see what kind of promotions customers like the most:

The creative brief for such promotions is straightforward: inform customers about the deal, then promote action by using scarcity or time-limited deals.

Take a look at some of these examples to get a better idea:

3. Turn hesitant buyers into customers with an incentive

How many times have you stumbled on a web store, added a product to the shopping cart, then abandoned the cart after seeing the shipping charges? This is a big problem for your customers as well. Many of them want to buy from you but need an incentive to overcome their hesitation.

In Ecwid, you can return customers who abandoned their carts with an automated or manual recovery email.

Learn more: Abandoned Cart Recovery for Ecwid Stores

Since shipping is the biggest reason for abandoned shopping carts, you can win back reluctant customers by offering free shipping deals for select holidays.

In fact, 92% of top 50 retailers in the US have free shipping policies, which helps them close a lot of abandoned carts. You don’t have to offer free shipping to all customers, of course. You can offer it only for orders above a certain value, or as a limited time promotion.

To give you an idea of what your competitors’ are doing, here’s a chart of the free shipping policies followed by retailers:

Learn more: 6 Free Shipping Strategies and Their Alternatives

Apart from free shipping, you can also try flash sales to close reluctant customers. To help with shipping and order fulfilment, try the Shipwire app in the Ecwid store. If you run a physical store, you can also offer local pickup with the Ecwid in-store pickup feature.

Related: 7 Ways to Reduce Cart Abandonment in Your Online Store

4. Reward your most loyal customers

As with most things in business and life, the Pareto Principle (or the 80/20 rule) holds up for e-сommerce as well: 20% of your customers will bring in 80% of your revenues.

A better way to make sure these 20% customers stick around for the long-term is offering them steep loyalty deals right around the holidays?

Your best customers will appreciate this immensely. It tells them that they aren’t just another data point in your analytics tool, but actual people who love your brand and your products. It’ll also directly improve your bottom line: according to Experian, loyalty programs get 11% higher revenue per email than bulk email campaigns.

You can try out several different ideas to promote loyalty during the holidays, such as:

Here’s an example of a brand offering reward points to loyal customers before the holidays:

And here’s an example of Netflix offering loyal members a free DVD rental:

You can use the Loyal2 app in the Ecwid store to easily create loyalty programs.

Email marketing trend 2017: better segmentation and personalization. Read how to segment your subscribers to increase your revenue.

5. Win-back lost customers with steep discounts

Once you dig through your CRM, you’ll spot hundreds, if not thousands of customers who haven’t shopped from you in months or even years.

While some of these will likely never shop from you again, plenty can be lured back with the right kind of promotion. The holidays are the best time to do this since these customers are likely looking for gifts and will respond to the right offer around this time.

Here are some email ideas you can try to win-back these lost customers:

And here’s one that offers a discount to win back lost customers:

6. Use early-bird and last-minute deals

According to Google, 29% of customers will start their holiday shopping before Black Friday. The total number of early holiday shoppers in US alone is expected to be 32M.

On the other hand, more and more consumers are also holding off on holiday shopping to take advantage of last-minute deals. According to a survey by Future Foundation, 45% of consumers say that they shop at the last minute to take advantage of better deals.

So how can you win both these customer groups?

Simple: by giving away both early-bird and last-minute deals.

For example, you can have a “pre-Black Friday” sale where you offer steep discounts before Black Friday. You can follow this up with a “post-Black Friday” sale to get customers who might have missed your deals earlier.

Here’s an example of an early-bird email:

And here’s one example of a last-minute deal:

7. Make better use of the “thank you” email

Your “thank you” email is the first thing that will hit your customers inbox after they’ve purchased something from you. At this point, the customers are “warm”, i.e. they have a favourable impression of your store and your products.

You can boost your sales by making better use of this “thank you” email. Along with the note of thanks and the invoice, why not throw in an additional discount on some related products?

For example, if you’re a fashion retailer, you could offer offers on shoes to a customer who just purchased a pair of jeans. Something as simple as “since you loved our jeans, try these shoes to match — now at 50% off just for you” can add a few extra zeros to your bottom line.

Consider this thank-you email from HomeDepot that also upsells related products:

This is a very simple tactic that very few retailers utilize.

Email marketing trend 2017: combine email and social. Add share buttons to your emails and let customers know about your branded hashtags.

What You Can Learn From this Post

Wrapping up, here are some actionable tips you can apply from this post:

Also read: Ecwid Promo Toolkit to Power Your Black Friday Sale

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What did and didn’t work for your email marketing in 2016? Let’s chat in the comments section below!

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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