The holiday shopping season is upon us and, like last year, this year is expected to once again break online sales records — reaching $142 billion, according to eMarketer. For companies big and small, email marketing is going to have a significant hand in helping drive those record sales.
But planning for a long holiday season takes consideration and time. Regardless of whether you’ve already started the planning process or not, here are some of the key things you need to prepare your email marketing program for a successful holiday season.
Gray November, Cyber Monday, and the Cyber Ten
Gray November is no longer a trend — it’s the norm. But this year it becomes a bit longer. There are fewer days, only 27, between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Plan for a long month leading up to Black Friday Week.
The Cyber Ten
Last year, 19% of online holiday revenue was generated from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, often referred to as the Cyber Five. Not surprisingly, these five days were the top five online sales days of the entire holiday season.
Twenty-three percent of Cyber Five sales came from email marketing. Looking at my inbox, the Sunday before Black Friday received the lowest number of emails for not only the entire week but for the following nine days. There is an opportunity to jump on early sales by increasing your email sends on this day.
But this year you should look beyond these five days and focus on a longer period. The ten-day period from November 24th to December 3rd will be an extremely busy shopping period. Let me introduce you to the Cyber Ten!
- The day after Cyber Monday was the sixth busiest shopping day of the year, generating nearly $3 billion in online sales. This was only a slight difference from the fifth-busiest day.
- The day before Thanksgiving saw year-over-year growth of 32% and generated $1 billion in incremental sales. Expect this to be a major online sales day this year.
- Black Friday has finally morphed into Black Friday week, with many sales kicking off on the Monday before.
- The Sunday before Black Friday also saw an increase of $1 billion in incremental sales, meaning people were not only excited about the early deals but they shopped them.
Each year, Cyber Monday sets the record as the largest online sales day in history (nearly $8 billion in 2018). This year will be no exception. Your Cyber Monday email strategy should be to plan early and plan late.
- Last year more than half-a-billion was spent online by 7 a.m. PST.
- The most active shopping period of the entire year was from 7–11 p.m., ringing up $2 billion in online sales during that time.
- Last year, the Bronto Marketing Platform saw a 21% lift in year-over-year Cyber Monday emails sent, totaling more than a half-billion emails in one day. Plan on sending multiple emails!
- Many email marketers tend to relax a bit the day after — don’t. Remember, the day after is one of the biggest online sales days of the season.
Hot Promotions Of The Season
Throughout the holiday season, most retailers will run a multitude of discounts. According to Deloitte, the three most appealing discounts to shoppers last holiday season were price discounts, free shipping, and free gifts — and these were certainly noticeable last year.
Here are a few messaging strategies that were prominent last year, and that I expect to see this season too.
With holiday deals starting early, daily deals have always been a way to keep subscribers checking their emails. By offering special discounts on specific products or categories of products, subscribers may check their email more often to ensure they’re not missing anything.
One trend from last year was promoting categories that would be on sale throughout the entire campaign. For many of those that offered a week’s worth of daily deals (often coinciding with Black Friday week), they promoted at the onset which categories would be going on sale, and when. This way, subscribers who were planning on making a specific purchase could plan accordingly.
Free shipping became a major focal point in promotions last season. As mentioned, consumers found free shipping to be the second-most appealing promotional offer. This is likely why, according to eMarketer, there was a year-over-year increase of holiday orders that were shipped free, starting with Black Friday Week and continuing through Christmas Day.
As the season inched toward a close, free shipping — including expedited shipping — turned from an additional incentive to a primary one. While many retailers stipulated a minimum spend for the order, not all did. With free shipping, you have options to test.
Use free shipping as both an add-on incentive and a stand-alone one. Seeing as holiday discounts run for nearly two full months, using free shipping as a promotional tool may provide your program with another way to prevent your promotions from going stale.
Buy-online pickup in-store (BOPIS)
Forty-one percent of consumers reported using BOPIS last holiday season, and its year-over-year usage increased by 47% from November 1st through December 19th. According to the NRF, 64% of consumers choose BOPIS to avoid paying for shipping fees, which echoes consumers’ desire for free shipping promotions.
If you have the capability, promote your BOPIS service in your emails, on your website and in any other marketing channel you use — especially as the season winds down.
Last year, I saw retailers offering discounts for online and BOPIS-only orders to secure an immediate sale while still driving customers in-store, where 85% of shoppers said they made an unplanned purchase while picking up BOPIS orders.
Five Holiday Subject Line Strategies You Should Use
Knowing the inbox will be crowded throughout the holiday season, retailers must catch their subscribers’ attention. Emojis, even after all of these years, continue to be a good way to gain inbox attention. Here are a few ways to effectively use emojis in your email messages.
- Use one single emoji to start the subject line. This can catch readers’ attention without being overwhelming or distracting.
- Use repeating emojis to make the email pop. Don’t worry, this won’t cause deliverability problems.
- Use emojis to bookend subject line text. In the same vein, using, increasing and decreasing sized emojis as you move toward and away from the text can make the text stand out even more – even if the emoji lacks color.
- Include repeating emojis in the preheader text. This not only stands out in the inbox pane but also allows you to use more text in the subject line.
- Use an emoji in the “send from” name. This is used far less often but adding color to the sender name can make your email stand out.
Three Other Notable Holiday Marketing Tips
- Ensure your emails and website are mobile-friendly. Mobile generated nearly 40% of online revenue last season and accounted for more than half of all retailer web traffic for the first time. It also accounted for more than $2 billion on Cyber Monday alone.
- The new benchmark is $2 billion. Last season, only four days (12/22-12/25) failed to reach the $1 billion daily benchmark but none missed by more than $120 million. It seems that $2 billion is becoming the new benchmark, with 26 days reaching that mark in 2018 – that’s nearly double from the year prior.
- Send on the weekends. According to my own inbox analysis, most Saturdays and Sundays in November recorded the lowest volume of email sends for the entire month. Even with lower send volumes, every day in November still recorded online sales of $1 billion. Bump up your email sends on these days to take advantage of a less crowded inbox.
There you have it, some Rudolph-approved holiday tidbits to help guide your email marketing program this holiday season — you didn’t think I’d forget the obligatory holiday cliché, did you?
If you’d like more thorough and in-depth holiday email preparation tips, be sure to check out this on-demand holiday planning webinar.
Greg Zakowicz is a Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Oracle Netsuite