Based on the holiday email activity of more than 100 top U.S. online retailers, provides tips and information to help email marketers meet the challenges, capture the opportunities, and make the most of the 2012 holiday season.
Trends, tactics and a content roadmap to maximize your email marketing revenue.
by Chad White
Laying the groundwork for successful holiday email
marketing campaigns begins during the summer
starting with a thorough review of your 2011 holiday
campaigns. Before helping you with that review, this
guide will discuss the newest holiday trends and
walk you through the 5 stages of the holiday
season, covering early holiday messaging all the
way through Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the
Based on the holiday email activity of more
than 100 top U.S. online retailers tracked by
the Retail Email Blog and on the insights of
Responsys Strategic Services group, this
guide also addresses the new challenges and
opportunities that will require marketers to
adjust their holiday email strategies this year.
We hope the benchmarks, advice and examples
in this guide help you to maximize the holiday
performance of your email marketing program.
Happy Holiday Sales,
Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season 2012
The Newest Holiday Trends
The Five Stages of the Holiday Season
1. Pre-Holiday Period
Christmas in July campaigns
Other early holiday messaging
2. Black November
Core holiday messaging
Holiday headers & gift services footers
3. Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend
4. Countdown to Christmas
12 Days of Christmas campaigns
Parade of order deadlines
Free Shipping Day
Last Sleigh Day
eGift Card Day
5. After-Christmas Period
Gift card redemptions
Upsell & trade-in messaging
Review Your Past Holiday Campaigns
01 / 2012 Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season
The Newest Holiday Trends
Every year retailers approach the holiday season differently, looking to be more
responsive to their customers and to adjust to changing shopping habits. Last
holiday season there were a few big changes that you should be aware of when
planning your campaigns this year:
1. Thanksgiving has replaced Black Friday as the unofficial kick-off of the
holiday shopping season. Thanks to more retailers opening their stores on
Thanksgiving Day and the growing impact of mobile commerce, as well as
showrooming, sales and marketing efforts have increased rapidly over the
past couple of years. Last year, 75% of major retailers sent at least one
promotional email campaign to their subscribers on Thanksgiving Day, up
from 60% in 2010 and only 45% in 2009. That increase supported a huge
leap in online sales, which rose 39.3% compared to Thanksgiving Day 2010,
according to IBM Coremetrics.
While some may bemoan the creep of commercialism into the Thanksgiving
holiday, theres no putting the genie back in the bottle at this point. We expect
Thanksgiving to remain among the top 5 email marketing days of the year
again this year.
2. Express shipping went mainstream on Last Sleigh Day, which is the new end
of the holiday season. Retailers dramatically increased their messaging around
express delivery last year, with many retailers offering free or discounted
express delivery options. Their efforts were concentrated on Dec. 21a Last
Sleigh Day for Christmas deliverywhen 74% of retailers sent at least one
promotional email to their subscribers. That made it the fourth busiest email
marketing day of the year, ahead of Green Monday (No. 5), the day after
Christmas (No. 9), and Free Shipping Day (No. 13).
In the past, the end of guaranteed Christmas delivery with standard shipping
signaled the wind-down of the online holiday shopping season. Retailers sent
a very clear message last year that this is no longer the case.
That said, retailers willingness to push express shipping may have been
influenced by higher-than-usual inventory levels, in which case Last Sleigh
Day may not be as prominent this year if inventory positions are kept more
in check. And perhaps even more important, this year Christmas is on a
Tuesday, which stretches out the delivery time for express delivery, making
it less effective and less appealing.
3. Mobile will be more important this year, but especially on days when
consumers are on the move. By the end of 2012, more people will be reading
emails on mobile devices than on desktops or webmail, according to Return
Path. The readership habits of your brands subscribers will determine your
email design and messaging strategy, but you may want to pay special
attention to being mobile-friendly on days that consumers are more likely
to be away from home, such as:
responsys.com / 02
The day before Thanksgiving, which is the busiest travel day of the year;
Thanksgiving Day, when most consumers are with family with a smartphone
in their purse or on the couch watching TV with a tablet on their laps, or out
shopping with their smartphone in hand;
Black Friday, when many consumers are out shopping at brick-and-mortar
Christmas Day, when consumers are flush with gift card cash and shop online
because stores are closed.
And those days are in addition to the weekends as well, which also see higher
than average mobile email reading. Weekends are particular important during
the height of the holiday season in December, when weekend email volume is
about 50% higher than at other times of the year.
4. Free shipping is now the norm for the holiday season. Fifty-five percent of
major online retailers offered free shipping all holiday season long. Half of
those retailers have adopted an Every Day Free Shipping policy, while the
other half offered free shipping just for the holiday season. The remaining 45%
of retailers offered free shipping for limited periods of time, offered it on just
a narrow selection, or didnt offer it.
More than half of major retailers offered free shipping for the duration of the holiday season.
03 / 2012 Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season
Free shipping is the most popular and effective online promotional offer,
with consumers consistently valuing it more than it costs retailers to provide
it. Thats why were seeing more and more retailers move to an Every Day
Free Shipping policy, which is in turn forcing other retailers to keep up by
offering free shipping more often, including for the duration of the critical
The proliferation of free shipping is also driving more retailers to offer free
shipping with no minimum purchase, which a significant number of retailers
did on Free Shipping Day, and to offer free return shipping, which is a small
but growing trend. No longer requiring a promo code to receive free shipping
has also become more common this year.
Keep these trends in mind as you plan your holiday strategy and develop your
campaigns for each of the 5 stages of the holiday season.
Five Stages of the Holiday Season
Pre-Holiday PeriodSummer through the end of October
Black NovemberThe first three weeks of November
Thanksgiving Holiday WeekendThe days around Thanksgiving, Black Friday and
Countdown to ChristmasThe remaining weeks leading up to Christmas
After-Christmas PeriodChristmas through the end of January
1. Pre-Holiday Period
While some roll their eyes at Christmas in July campaigns and bemoan holiday
messaging that arrives before Halloween, many consumers begin their gift
shopping before Oct. 31. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly
40% of consumers start their holiday shopping before Halloween, another
40% begin in November, and the remaining 20% start in December.
Because of consumers willingness to shop early, the majority of retailers start their
holiday email marketing campaigns before Nov. 1and thats a trend that has held
firm for years now. Last year, 60% of major retailers mentioned the holiday season
at least once in their promotional emails before the end of October. And retailers
began their 2011 holiday campaigns 70 days before Christmason Oct. 18. Thats
one day later than in 2010.
And this year were off to the fastest start in yearsat least as of late August.
So while the holiday season doesnt kick into high gear until late November, most
retailers find it advantageous to start their holiday email messaging more than a
month before Thanksgiving Day sales and Black Friday doorbusters arrive.
Christmas in July Campaigns
A tradition with fuzzy origins, Christmas in July campaigns are often just an
excuse to hold generic sale during the holiday-starved summer months, particularly
during the last two weeks of July. Santas in sunglasses on the beach are typ