The Essential Guide to Holiday Email Marketing for E-Commerce Stores

Nov 7, 2015 by Lina Vashurina, Ecwid Team
Posted Nov 7, 2015 by Lina Vashurina, Ecwid Team

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.

In one survey by eMarketer, marketers rated email as the single largest sales driver for online stores, beating out even paid search. In fact, email accounted for nearly 28% of all sales on Black Friday in 2014.

In another survey by MailChimp, 100% of respondents said that they planned to use email marketing in 2014. This is only fitting since 80% of online shoppers also say that email heavily influences their purchase decision.

So how can your e-сommerce store take advantage of this massive sales opportunity this holiday season?

This post will give you all the answers.

Laying the Foundation of a Successful Email Marketing Campaign

This is the part most 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.

Follow these steps to plan your campaign:

Step #1: 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:

  • Make a list of ideas you tried last year.
  • Gather data on audience response to those ideas.
  • Analyze your best performing customer segment and offer.

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.

For example, if you dig through your data and find that customers responded particularly well to free shipping deals around Black Friday over 3 years, you know you can do the same this year and see a spike in sales.

Step #2: 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:

  • Sign-up for at least 4-5 of your competitors’ email list.
  • Collect emails from them around the holiday season.
  • Make a list of their offers and the timing of those offers.

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.

Step #3: 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.

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:

  • A list of email subject lines, broken down by date. Include alternative subject lines for A/B testing as well.
  • Delivery date for each email.
  • The team member(s) responsible for writing and designing the email.
  • The primary promotion in each email.
  • Target customer segment for each email.

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

email 1

You can use a shared spreadsheet, Google Calendar, or a project management tool such as Trello or Asana to create this plan.To better understand your customers, plug your Ecwid store to a CRM such as SugarCRM, now available as an Ecwid app. Once you’ve done all this spadework, you can start creating the actual emails in your campaign.

How to Create Winning Holiday Emails: 7 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.

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:

Gift Guide

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

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:

Promotions curomers enjoy 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:
discount email

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. 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:

Free Shipping policies

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 app.

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.

What better way to make sure these 20% customers stick around for the long-term than by 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:

  • Give away free points in your reward program (if you have one).
  • Give away free low-cost items (such as accessories) with a big purchase.
  • Offer additional discounts if customers reach a spending target (say, extra 10% off for spending over $200).
  • Start a “loyal-customers only” sale with steep discounts.

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

Loyalty points

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.

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:

  • Remind customers who you are: If a customer hasn’t stopped by your site in a while, they’ve probably forgotten who you are. Re-register yourself on their radar by reminding them about their last purchase. You can then tell them about an offer on a similar product (such as “Hey, you loved X, so we’re offering you 50% off on Y”).
  • Show that you’ve changed: Maybe the customer stopped shopping from you because of poor service. Or maybe they didn’t like your design. Whatever the reason, you can win them back by telling them how you’ve improved. Something like “Hey, we’ve changed — check out the new and improved store” works really well.
  • Give an incentive: The easiest way to win-back lost customers is to give them a steep discount or offer. This can be anything — 50% off, BOGO, $5 store credit, etc. Your intention should be to give so much value that customers feel no hesitation in coming back.Here’s an example of a “remember us” email:


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:

early-bird email

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

last minute email

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:

Thank you email

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

What You Can Learn From this Post

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

  • Study past emails as well as your competitors to see what works best.
  • Create a detailed plan before sending a single email. This should include the email subject, alternative subject lines, delivery date, offer type, and target customer segment.
  • Focus on discounts — your customers expect this.
  • Offer free shipping if possible.
  • Use loyalty discounts, last minute offers and early bird deals to capture every type of customer.
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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