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WEBINAR REVIEW Nine tips for a successful holiday season

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Jim Davidson, manager of marketing research at Bronto , provider of email marketing software for retailers, focused on Christmas email marketing in a recent Internet Retailing webinar, Nine tips for a successful holiday season. Davidson drew on a wide variety of holiday email examples to come up with nine tips for retailers planning ahead to Christmas.

Email subscriber acquisition

Friends and family emails can help recipients to share discounts with their nearest and dearest. But for them to work effectively they must be well-presented, with varied creatives that are clearly visible to recipients. Well-flagged up social tools promote sharing. “We want to make sure that we’re showing something fresh in the inbox each time we email,” said Jim Davidson. “It can help to decrease unsubscription and abuse complaints during this time of year. You really want to make sure you are avoiding blocking from internet service providers.” Examples of emails showed included one from Aéropostale, showing a progressive mix of messages.

SMS and mobile app awareness

One in five (20%) visits to websites are expected to come from mobile visitors this Christmas, according to IMRG, while 11% of sales are expected to be made over mobile devices. Messages, accordingly, should be optimised for mobile. Davidson flagged up a message from Saks Fifth Avenue that encouraged sign-up for text message alerts for information about store events or opening hours, as well as another from Toys R Us that flagged up the value of downloading its mobile app.

Streamline social call-to-actions

Highlighting a pet peeve, Davidson showed examples of the random use of social sharing buttons. A clear call to action is needed, he explained, whether that’s ‘become a fan on Facebook,’ or ‘Like us on Facebook,’ as exemplified in an email from Urban Outfitters. “Give a clear indication of what’s going to happen post-click,” he urged.

Gift guide vs shop by

Shop by category or a gift guide? A gift guide can showcase the range. Here Davidson showed examples including a ‘lazy’ gift guide by retailer Moosejaw, which was crowdsourced from suggestions on its Twitter and Facebook pages.

When looking at ‘shop by category’ emails, it’s useful to go beyond the ‘his’ or ‘her’ demographics, to show suggestions that might be suitable for several target groups, said Davidson. Designing with vertical columns rather than horizontal rows makes sure all the categories are visible from the top of the email.

Contingency planning

Plan ahead for unforeseen circumstances and have an email ready to go in case of problems such as a slow site. Last year around 4% of brands had to send out an apology email during the holiday season, said Davidson, who flagged up good examples of such messages from retailers Delia’s and Red Envelope. Creative design and good offers can help to compensate for shortcomings on slow sites or misfiring promotions.

Channel messaging

Online-only emails can promote the value of online shopping to customers, reminding them that they do not need to leave the house in order to shop, while crosschannel messages can outline store hours, and in-store promotional codes.

Shipping awareness

Communicating the expiry dates of shipping deadlines gives the customer important information but can also inspire purchases. One example email showed expired delivery cutoff dates, with only one possible option remaining. But if you do this, said Davidson, “Make sure you’re including links to your gift guides or a selection where people can immediately shop.”

Pointing to data showing when people plan to start holiday shopping and the reasons for last-minute shopping, Davidson showed that while 20% started shopping in October and 40% in November, 43% still believed better discounts were available at the last minute, and 22% thought last-minute shopping was fun.

Countdowns and days of deals

When designing series of emails that highlight days of deals or a countdown to Christmas it’s important to keep them fresh and differentiate them from straightforward promotional emails. An example from Anthropologie counted down in colours, moving from red to green to gold, with subject lines that focused on the colours rather than sales messages. “Look at ways that you can take a breather from heavy marketing messages and make people remember that this is a fun time of year,” said Davidson.

Post-shipping programmes

When shipping deadlines have expired it’s time to highlight store shopping and gift cards. Showing store hours in subject lines can be particularly effective in the very last days before Christmas.

Holiday greetings

Some 24% of US brands sent a holiday greeting on Christmas Day, said Davidson and of them 62% were promotional. “Even though you want to take a break from heavy marketing messages, people are still going to be shopping on Christmas Day,” said Davidson. Fewer brands sent a New Year’s message, and most of these were not promotional. “You may want to thank your subscribers for shopping with you through the year,” said Davidson.

Didn’t get what you wanted

Introduce the sale season by highlighting the chances for shoppers to buy the things they really did want.

Final tips

Start planning today, with solid communications that must still be flexible. Above all, remember your customer.

Bronto’s holiday resource centre can be seen at where there is a planning guide for email marketing through the holiday season.

To hear the webinar for yourself, to view the accompanying slides and hear the question and answer session, visit our webinar page.

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