The Key to Holiday E-mail Success

Nov 09, 2006 10:26 PM  By

During the holiday shopping rush, e-mail relevancy matters more than ever if you want to see increased Web sales. Return Path’s annual Holiday Consumer Survey shows that the fastest-growing factor driving consumer response to e-mail is value in the e-mail itself. So your brand and your subject line still matter, but what really drives a response is relevancy: The message itself must speak to your customers’ needs.

Here are a few things to consider if you want to win the “relevancy” battle this holiday season.

Let’s say you have a big house file of e-mail addresses to understand, not much of a budget for segmentation, and not a lot of extra time. Where should you start? The obvious answer is to try segmenting where e-mail can build the most new revenue.

This may not be in the best-buyer category. Your best buyers may be perfectly happy with the current cadence of your program and familiar with your merchandise and styles. More e-mail may have less of an effect on their purchases.

Instead, focus your segmentation on subscribers who have the highest sales potential:

Buyers who have been inactive since the previous holiday season. Send a targeted message around gift-giving ideas.

Buyers who consistently buy the same type of style. Feature those styles in the main section of the e-mail and, if you send more than one e-mail a week, at the beginning of each week’s series.

Nonbuyers. Highlight testimonials, free shipping, and larger discounts for higher shopping-cart value.

Search-engine users. Use their keywords in the triggered thank-you offer and subject line.

Coregistration and affiliate-sourced subscribers. This group is usually looking for bargains, so send those types of offers.

Don’t rely on broad-based free-shipping offers or discounts to drive e-mail sales. Sure, they have their place (as mentioned earlier, when targeting nonbuyers, for instance) and might be the best bet for some audiences late in the season.

But with nondiscount offers, you can let shoppers know you understand that precarious balance of giving pleasure and budget pain inherent in holiday shopping. Help them find the right gift for everyone on their list with high-value, unique offerings.

Don’t just tell subscribers what is on sale; tell them how your merchandise will make them a hero for giving it. It takes only a little bit of information to turn a commonplace promotion into a relevant guide for shoppers. In addition to that great product shot, include three ideas for giving the perfect gift, two additional items to complement the first, or three ways to identify the best color choices for each person on their list. Downloadable gift guides help shoppers spend more share of wallet on your site and navigate to offers they may not find on their own.

Map out your seasonal-offer calendar based not only on merchandise but also on how consumers shop with your brand. Tap their need to please early; appeal to urgency and simplicity later. Gift cards and certificates become much more popular later in the season, but don’t wait until the week prior to Christmas—start promoting them in early December. Free shipping is less important than expedited shipping later in the season. And don’t forget the weeks after the holidays leading into early January: Count them as part of the season.

More than any other time of year, consumers get a deluge of e-mail during the holiday season. If your messages are not expected or wanted, or do not speak to them on a personal level, you may find yourself getting deleted—or worse, getting complained about.

ISPs take note of every “this is spam” button hit by your customers, and at a certain threshold they’ll start blocking all of your e-mails. This means you need to be so relevant that your customers will never want to report you as spam. All of your hard work will be for naught if your campaigns get put in the junk folder or don’t get delivered at all.

Track your campaigns to see how their delivery rates fare. Monitor feedback loops to keep track of complaints—and take action when you see complaints trending because of certain offers or audiences. Being relevant will help ensure that your reputation remains golden with both your customers and the ISPs, which will definitely lead to increased sales.

Stephanie Miller is vice president of strategic services for Return Path, the e-mail performance company. You can download Return Path’s Holiday Revenue and Response Guide at