Retailers experienced a 15% year-over-year boost in online sales during the 2011 holiday season, according to research from comScore. Overall, Black Friday had the highest growth, with a 26% increase in sales between 2010 and 2011.
As retailers begin to strategize for online and in-store success during the 2012 holiday season, email acts as the linchpin of all cross-channel marketing messages and engagement strategies, from promoting sales and free shipping to sharing curated assortments.
At Bronto Software’s recent Revenue Revolution Tour stop in New York City, Jim Davidson, the company’s Manager of Marketing Research, unveiled research from Bronto’s 2011 Holiday Wrap-Up report, and shared email marketing best practices for the 2012 holiday season.
Based on last year’s retail efforts, Davidson said, September is the ideal time to build the 2012 holiday season’s email marketing strategies for increased foot traffic and purchases online and in-store, from Black Friday and Cyber Monday through to Christmas Day.
Holiday-themed email campaigns began to build mid-September 2011, according to Bronto’s research. To keep pace with consumer demands and boost brand awareness, retailers should now focus on developing communication and messaging plans, as well as a timeline of promotions and offers based on 2011 holiday season performance.
“Now is the time to crunch email data and other metrics from last year, determine promotional windows and build communication plans for the 2012 holiday selling season,” Davidson said. “By September, retailers should be building their email subscriber lists with compelling calls-to-action via in-store signage and other online promotions,” he stated, adding that those efforts should continue through October and early November.
Retailers traditionally have utilized batch-and-blast delivery strategies to ensure email opens. Rather than utilizing this strategy to distribute offers and promote referral programs, retailers should have a communication plan filled with fun and intriguing messages, offers and calls-to-action, Davidson said, to increase email opens and overall engagement.
“When you’re creating your communication plan, creative resources are always key,” Davidson explained. “A common but big mistake is to send the same message consistently over a period of days. This strategy floods consumers’ inboxes with offers and leads to more unsubscribes and abuse complaints. When you’re increasing your message frequency, consumers will appreciate a variation in messaging, especially when you’re sharing offers.”
The 2011 holiday season displayed a steady increase in email volume, with send rates climbing in mid-October with a 4.4% increase over September, according to Bronto’s holiday email research. The study also revealed that total volume for November and December was relatively similar, increasing 6% to 8% over October.
Building Black Friday And Cyber Monday Buzz
To boost awareness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, retailers must focus on increasing awareness of promotions and other special offers, such as free or rush shipping options, Davidson explained.
Bronto holiday email researched revealed that retailers sent an average of two messages a day, with some merchants sending five emails within the same period, between Nov. 29, 2011 and Dec. 25, 2011. While it is tempting to send promotions and announcements such as door busters and information on holiday hours consistently during the day, retailers must “understand the thresholds of what your customer expects to receive via email,” Davidson said.
“It’s vital that retailers analyze unsubscribes and overall email responses to determine if they’re losing loyal customers due to email send rates,” Davidson added. “If people who really love your brand are unsubscribing to your emails, you need to reevaluate how many messages you send out.”
Daily Deals And Curated Assortments Drive Holiday Engagement
During his presentation, Davidson shared a selection of email marketing strategies to drive click-throughs and in-store traffic. The tactics include the following:
- Drive cross-channel engagement: Only 2% of brands sent an email dedicated to mobile programs during the 2011 holiday season, according to Davidson. To drive sign-ups for SMS programs, “Likes” on Facebook and follows on Twitter, create emails with clear calls-to-action. For example, rather than publishing social logos in email messages, make the value proposition for signing up clear in message banners and footers.
- Promote gift guides and shop-by-date strategies: Best-in-class retailers send emails highlighting must-have gifts for friends and family, as well as curated collections for specific audiences. Overall, 11% of merchants sent dedicated emails for gift guides, while 17% promoted shop-bys during the 2011 holiday season. These messages offer easy access to limited-time collections, as well as items in specific categories, such as men’s, women’s or children’s.
- Explore daily deals: Daily deals have been acknowledged as tried and true methods to drive purchase urgency and boost in-store traffic. Yet only 7% of retailers utilized this method last holiday season, due to the risk of inbox clutter and consumers not seeing messages, according to Davidson. At the same time, 8% of merchants explored flash sales.
- Thank shoppers for their loyalty: On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 18% and 14% of retailers, respectively, focused on sending themed, non-promotional messages to their customers. For example, some merchants sent thank-you messages to loyal customers. This keeps merchants top-of-mind and also shows a more personal side to brands.
“If you have not already, start your holiday planning now,” Davidson advised. “But overall, it is most important to know your customers, and know your brand’s voice when you speak to your customers. This will help you know what will drive success this holiday season.”
Click here to access additional holiday research and planning strategies from Bronto Software.