How to Use Free Shipping to Boost the Power of Your Holiday Emails

People love free stuff, and that includes free shipping. Shouldn’t you use this powerful incentive to pump up the performance of your holiday emails?

According to Deloitte’s 2018 retail holiday survey, the three most appealing incentives to shoppers last holiday season were price discounts (95%), free shipping (75%) and free gifts (52%). That same report also showed that free shipping is the second-most common reason why consumers turn to ecommerce, with convenience being the first.

This appetite for free shipping has made it a powerful promotional tactic during the holiday season, and last holiday season it became a major focal point in many email promotions.

But free shipping is more than just casually appealing to consumers — it can be the difference between a sale and a lost customer. Twenty-two percent of holiday shoppers flat-out refuse to pay for shipping during the holiday season.

And last year, it showed. Each week during the holiday season saw a year-over-year increase in orders that were shipped free, with some weeks reaching as high as 85%. Even the week before Christmas, a time when standard free shipping is no longer available, more than two thirds of orders were still being shipped free.

Free Shipping Emerging in Holiday Emails

The term “free shipping” was spotted in the subject lines of many holiday emails throughout the season. Looking at my own inbox, with hundreds of daily emails, it was one of the top three advertised discounts almost every day, from mid-November through the end of the month. On Cyber Monday, the largest online shopping day in history, it was the second-most common discount advertised in subject lines.

Not only was the term used in the subject line, it was often a focal point of a holiday email, either the front end of the subject line or the primary incentive. To no surprise, this focus carried over to the email body, where the incentive was often more prominent than discounts.

Pitney Bowes reports that 79% of consumers view free shipping as more important than fast shipping. Early in the season, when shoppers have time to wait for deliveries, offering free shipping can serve as a great add-on shopper enticement. But as Christmas approaches, free shipping can turn from an add-on to the primary incentive.

Late in the season, procrastinators have fewer fulfillment choices. Many retailers used free shipping (including expedited), not discounts, as the primary incentive and were able to attach a minimum spend on the order. Late-season shoppers need fast shipping, but also value the cost.

When preparing your holiday email promotions, you’ll want to make free shipping a staple of your strategy. Here are a few ways to incorporate it into your holiday email marketing strategy:

7 Free Shipping Ideas for The Holiday Season

  • Reduce or remove the qualifying minimum spend thresholds during the holidays. It’s a gift-giving season, and the majority of people self-gifting may spend past that threshold anyway.
  • Include banners or other prominent email call-outs to promote your free shipping offer. If you remove or lower the qualifying spend threshold for the holidays, be sure to promote this as well.
  • Using free shipping as THE incentive. This will be especially useful during seasonal lulls, and also as the season winds to a close and procrastinators are looking for value.
  • If you can’t remove minimums for the entire season, use free shipping in flash sale promotions. This allows you to give consumers what they want but attach a sense of urgency to complete the purchase. A side benefit of time-sensitive flash sales is that they can keep people opening your emails throughout the season.
  • Offer select free shipping promotions for email subscribers only. You can promote email-only holiday incentives on other channels, such as social media, prior to the season, helping you grow your email list.
  • Test the placement of the term “free shipping” in the subject line of your holiday emails. Use them to front-end a subject line, with capital letters to make it stand out, and make the subject line only about free shipping.
  • Don’t ignore the preheader text. If you have a lot to convey in your subject line, use the preheader to call attention to free shipping.

Set Your Emails Free

Free shipping will be hot this holiday season! Consumers expect it and retailers will promote it. Since holiday discounts run for nearly two full months, using free shipping as an add-on or stand-alone promotion will provide your program with another to keep your promotions fresh in customers’ eyes.

Use their expectations to your advantage. If you choose not to, that’s fine, too. After all, the best part about all of this advice is that – you guessed it – it’s free!

Greg Zakowicz is a Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Oracle NetSuite