Posted Oct 22, 2020 by Kevin George

Holiday Email Marketing 101 for E-Commerce Stores

The holiday shopping season is upon us. And with that comes a ton of opportunities for e-commerce sellers.

To make the most of this lucrative time period, let’s turn to an old friend: email. The humble email is an incredible effective marketing channel, which drives a return on investment of $51 for every $1 spent.

But the secret of email marketing is already out. Come holiday time, your subscribers are likely to get inundated with emails from all over the e-commerce world.

So, how can your e-commerce shop stand out in a cluttered inbox? We’ve assembled twelve surefire tips (with email examples!) that will bring you results and help you achieve your holiday wish for a higher ROI.

In this post:

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Running Successful Email Campaign: The Foundation

A rookie mistake in the world of e-commerce: diving headfirst into a campaign without first putting together a focused plan. Take it from us: you’ll get way more out of your email marketing campaign if you lay down a strong foundation first.

Study past campaigns

How well your holiday season emails did last year can give you a hint about what kind of emails resonate the most with your customers. Based on this, you can optimize your email campaigns this year for maximum returns.

Here’s what you need to do first:

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

Now you should have a list of ideas that worked last year. Bonus points if you can dig through data over multiple years and find ideas that worked across those years; these are your guaranteed wins.

Analyze your competition

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

Do the following to make this work:

  • Sign-up for 4-5 of your competitor’s email lists.
  • 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 your competitors. Are there any ideas that repeat over several years?

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

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

Creating a Holiday Email Marketing Plan

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

Your next step? Creating a concrete plan for each email you plan to send.

This plan should include the following:

  • A list of email subject lines, broken down by date + alternative subject lines for A/B testing
  • 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

Still confused? Take a look at our handy example, below:

As a rule, you might want to send an “early bird”, or “pre-holiday” offer before a holiday date. Then you’ll want to send a “post-holiday” offer for “late birds” the day after the holiday.

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 tackled this set-up, you can start creating the actual emails that will make up your campaign.

Tip: Mondays and Thursdays are the most popular days for online shopping, while the peak hour for e-commerce is between 8pm and 9pm.

Holiday Email Marketing Tips

A great holiday email campaign is part art, part science.

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

The science involves using 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 some ideas that work.

Plan for early-birds

Planning early is important because your subscribers are likely to start shopping for the Holidays from September onwards. After all, well begun is half done.

Take a look at this email example by Uncommon Goods.

This email is from the 5th of October, and came with the subject line: “Fun fact: there are just 80 days until Christmas 📆🎄”

This represents a great way to drive early holiday sales and add to your profit during the festive season. For example, you can have a “pre-Black Friday” sale where you offer steep discounts in preparation for the Black Friday rush.

But remember that if you send too many emails too fast, it can contribute to email fatigue. As a result, your subscribers might start to ignore your emails, which will ultimately lead to fewer conversions. It’s important to strategize a holiday email schedule that keeps your subscribers interested so they look forward to hearing from you.

Send gift guides in emails

Here’s a problem your customers might have around the holidays: they don’t know what to buy. If you can help them power through this tough decision, you’ll not only boost sales, but also establish your brand as one they might go to for future suggestions.

Create gift guides with your best selling items or holiday-themed goods from your store to help customers pick gifts for friends and family. This is a super effective tactic and something your customers will love to see in their inboxes.

Tip: If you run an Ecwid store, you can connect it to Mailchimp and insert your products into an email. Then your customers will be able to make purchases with just a couple of clicks.


Adding a product to your email is simply dragging and dropping

Add a human touch

Your subscribers have plenty of automated emails in their inbox. They are looking for a “person” to communicate with them rather than an “artificially intelligent” machine or bot. Try to impart a personalized experience to your customers by sending out a holiday note from your CEO, like Uncommon Goods does in the example below.

Entice the customers with tempting offers

Give your customers something that they just can’t say “No” to. Send out a “Buy One Get One Free” offer or a flat discount that will entice even the pickiest of holiday shoppers. The holiday season is often about impulsive purchases, and the right offer can lead to a spike in conversions.

Here’s an example by Christianbook. They shared their Christmas MEGA SALE with attractive offers to compel their subscribers to take action. Note their preheader text that lets the subscribers know what the email is about.

Send last-minute deals

Not all your subscribers will be holiday shopping early birds. To cater to procrastinators or the last-minute shoppers, you should send out last-minute deals, preferably with a gift guide to make things as easy as possible for your customers. A little guide can go a long way in facilitating decision making, thereby increasing your conversions.

You can highlight free shipping or instant delivery for certain products if that’s possible for your distribution partners. A delivery deal can further increase your conversion rate as the deadline for holiday shopping grows near.

Take a peek at this example by Tokyo Treat. Note how they highlighted a last minute offer to create a sense of urgency.

Think outside the box

One of the most important ways to leave a mark on a subscriber’s inbox is to send out some innovative emails. Using emojis in your subject line and experimenting with different kinds of visual elements can add additional appeal for your subscribers. Here are some examples to inspire you.

Korres has used a beautiful cinemagraph in their Black Friday email to grab their subscriber’s attention. In the second fold, they have also used a GIF to add visual oomph to the email and prompt the subscriber to take action.

UNIQSO sent out a video thumbnail in their Halloween email. When a recipient clicks on it, they will be redirected to a YouTube video demonstrating how to wear blood contacts. This lets subscribers know how stylish they might look with blood contacts on, and encourage them to complete the purchase.

Carry out A/B testing

Many marketers overlook the power of A/B testing. If done right, this tool can give you great insights into how to revamp your email marketing strategy. A/B testing is provided by most email service providers. With it, you can send out two variations of an email campaign and determine which one your subscribers like more.

You can A/B test a wide range of email elements like the subject line, CTA, phrases used in the email, emojis, and the visual layout of the email.

Here’s an example of an A/B test using an email subject line.

Promote your customer loyalty program

Customers love getting rewards. Promote (and/or create!) your customer loyalty program or VIP membership to tempt repeat purchases from customers. For example, you can run offers like “Join our loyalty program to get exclusive Black Friday offers.”

You can also employ a “point system” to gamify your subscriber’s experience. The customer can redeem these points for cash vouchers and discounts on their purchases from your shop. In addition, you can have a referral email marketing program to enable word-of-mouth publicity and enhance your visibility.

Re-engage the dormant leads and inactive customers

The holiday season provides a great opportunity to turn inactive leads into customers. You can do this by sending out a heartfelt holiday wish, along with, you guessed it, an offer they can’t refuse. You can also let them know about the new products in the pipeline that you have added to your e-commerce store while they were away. This will hopefully pique their curiosity and get them to browse from (and buy from!) your shop.

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 what makes you a great store in the first place. Put yourself back on their radar by reminding them about their last purchase. You can even 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 customer 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 as simple as “Hey, we’ve changed — check out the new and improved store” might work wonders.
  • win-back

  • 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 offer them so much value that your customer feels no hesitation in giving your shop another chance.

Tip: Connect your Ecwid store to Mailchimp to be able to segment inactive customers by purchase activity and send offers meant for this audience only.

Use an abandoned cart email strategy

Many customers will get on your e-commerce store, add products to their cart, and then, poof, disappear without making a purchase! Man, that hurts! Recover these “almost” customers, with an abandoned cart email strategy. This simple email will remind customers of the goods they left behind, and encourage them to complete their purchase.

Uncommon Goods does a great job with their abandoned cart emails; feel free to try out their strategy this holiday season. They send three cart abandoned emails over a period of four days. Take a look.

Email 1: Subject line: Hey, so, your shopping cart’s been asking about you

Email 2: Subject line: Re: your shopping cart

Email 3: Subject line: You’re about to miss out.

The first email came three hours after cart abandonment, followed by the second email the next day and the third email a day after that.

You can send one abandoned cart email or try a series of two or three emails as in the example above.

Just keep in mind that some customers deliberately abandon their carts to receive additional discounts and offers. Be wary of these deal-hungry shoppers to ensure that your profit margins aren’t hampered and that everyone shops happy.

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: 20% of your customers will bring in 80% of your revenue.

So, what’s the best way to make sure that these 20% customers stick around for the long-term? How about offering them steep loyalty deals right around the holidays!

Your best customers always appreciate an insider deal. It tells them that they aren’t just another data point in your analytics tool, but the people who love your brand and keep your e-commerce shop going. Appealing to them will 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 some of our ideas to promote a great case of holiday loyalty, such as:

  • Giving away free points in your reward program (if you have one)
  • Giving away free low-cost items (such as accessories) with a big purchase
  • Offering additional discounts if customers reach a spending target (say, extra 10% off for spending over $200)
  • Starting 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

Tip: If you connect your Ecwid store to Mailchimp, you’ll be able to segment your audience by order total. This way, you can easily send holiday offers to customers who spent over a certain amount of money in your store.

Make better use of the “Thank You” email

A “thank you” email is the first thing that hits your customer’s 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 its 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 a deal on shoes to a customer who just purchased a pair of jeans. Something as simple as “try these shoes to match — now at 50% off just for you” can add a few extra zeros to your bottom line.

Tip: Enable automated emails in your Ecwid store and you won’t need to send each “Thank You” email manually.

Thank you for your order automated email

Wrapping Up Holiday Email Marketing

Your holiday email marketing strategy matters if you’ve got your eye on a surge in holiday purchases and conversion rates.

If you’ve made it through our guide, you’re no doubt feeling like a holiday marketing expert. But here’s our last minute summary in case you missed it:

  • Study past emails as well as your competitors to see what buzzwords and offers work best.
  • Create a detailed plan before sending holiday season emails. This should include potential email subjects, alternative subject lines, delivery dates, offer types, and target customer segments.
  • Focus on discounts. And/or create a sense of exclusivity by promoting your loyalty program.
  • Use loyalty discounts, last minute offers, and early bird deals to capture customers in every stage of the holiday season.
  • Test different variants of your emails to hone in on the most converting ones.
  • Connect your Ecwid store to Mailchimp for easier audience segmentation and automated email marketing.
  • Enable automated emails (abandoned cart emails, “Thank You” emails and others) in your Ecwid store to free up your time and help you focus on making your store as effective as it can be.

So there you have it. Holiday email marketing 101 for your e-commerce store. Happy emailing, and happy holidays from the Ecwid team!

About the author
Kevin George is Head of Marketing at Email Uplers, one of the fastest growing custom email design and coding companies, and specializes in crafting professional email templates, PSD to HTML email conversion and free responsive HTML email templates in addition to providing email automation, campaign management, and data integration & migration services. He loves gadgets, bikes, jazz and eats and breathes email marketing. He enjoys sharing his insights and thoughts on email marketing best practices on his blog.
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