As a retail email marketer, you are probably planning your year-end holiday marketing campaigns right now.
Anyone outside our industry may be surprised to hear this, especially since Black Friday and Cyber Monday—generally regarded as the first of the major winter holidays—are still four months away. Yet there are real advantages to developing your holiday marketing strategies as early as possible.
For example, a report from NRF shows that 40% of consumers plan on starting their holiday shopping before November 1, a number that includes a substantial 12% who reported that they will begin before September 1. When you think about it this way, holiday shopping could start in less than eight weeks!
Source: NRF’s Annual October Holiday Consumer Survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics
It also looks like 2019 will be a banner year in terms of total consumer spending. The same NRF study found that in 2018, the average American shopper spent $846 on gifts, which represented a 14% increase over 2017. With the stock market, labor market, and consumer confidence numbers at, or near, all-time highs, holiday spending is likely to increase again this year.
On one hand, such positive news represents significant opportunities for retail marketers today, especially those who are contemplating their holiday campaigns now. Yet on the other, it may actually lead to more questions than answers. For example, many marketers may wonder:
The good news is that there is a way to accomplish all of these goals: real-time email personalization. The value of personalization is well documented, to the point where research shows that marketers who use advanced personalization tactics have greater email revenue than those that don’t.
Despite these results, a surprisingly high number of campaigns are still being deployed without meaningful personalization. For example, a 2018 research report found that nearly 40% of marketers said that they almost never personalized their emails in the previous year.
Even when brands do use some type of personalization, it is often limited to the same basic customization many marketers have been using for years: a first name in the greeting, a recent purchase in the body, or adding the recipient’s company name without much thought.
These tactics can be effective—and at least are a step in the right direction—but today’s consumers have come to expect much more. To catch their attention and gain a sustainable advantage over your competition, consider using email personalization in innovative new ways throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
For example, consider the following real-time personalization use cases to improve the way you engage with three very different segments of holiday shoppers: Early Birds, Seasonal Shoppers, and Procrastinators.
Help the Early Birds find the perfect worm
As described earlier, nearly a quarter of consumers will start shopping for holiday gifts before October 1. While they’re motivated to get it done, time is still on your side.
An astonishing 42% of companies don’t survey their customers or collect feedback. Consider using in-email polls or other interactive ways to collect valuable information about what is important to Early Birds and then use real-time personalization to create highly relevant email experiences.
In this case, you could create a poll where you ask them what special products are most appealing this holiday season. Here’s a great example from Taubman Centers asking subscribers what they love most about the new season:
Or you could ask other questions related to what they prefer most when purchasing holiday gifts, such as discounts, increased loyalty points, flash sales, special promotions, or free shipping. You can use polls to ask many different questions, so be as creative as possible.
These polls are delivered in the email itself, which leads to a fun, engaging experience your audience may not expect. Recipients click to answer the question and can see how their answers stack up to other responses in real time. You can even use this as an opportunity to offer initial discounts or holiday promotions!
But the real value is the specific information you’ll receive about each individual consumer. You can then send customized emails that give them exactly what they’re looking for. They’ll love it!l
Deliver ideal experiences for Seasonal Shoppers
Consumers who prefer to shop in October and November are looking for ways to get the best deals possible while making sure they don’t run into inventory issues.
It’s a real concern, since popular items tend to move fast during the holidays. If you’re not careful, you can send emails that feature products that are out of stock, priced higher than expected, or are temporarily unavailable.
This inevitably leads to a frustrating experience for customers who were ready to pull the trigger on a specific item or sale. Heavily promoted or discounted products can have out-of-stock rates of 10% or more, and out-of-stock experiences are consistently named among the most frustrating for consumers. An initial out-of-stock encounter results in a 30% chance of that customer turning to a competitor and not returning, a rate that increases to 50% and then 70% with subsequent experiences.
Real-time personalization can make the difference between success and failure. You can avoid promoting sold-out products by keep your customers’ favorite product categories up to date with the most appealing selections that are currently available on your website. Then you can create personalized emails that display their preferred items by scraping images and content directly from those web pages—in the moment of open.
Hot Topic used this tactic to reveal hot new products as they came available, and then swap or gray out items that became sold out:
In the case that a product is out of stock or removed from the category page, your email reverts to a graceful fallback option that serves up the next best option. Customers will never know, and they’ll even appreciate the additional options for the perfect purchase.
Give Procrastinators a way to save the day
When the clock is ticking, Procrastinators need as much help as possible. Yet with real-time personalization, desperate times don’t have to lead to desperate measures.
For example, you can send emails that use recipients’ geotargeting data to create maps that show your closest store location to save them time and effort. White House Black Market used this feature to drive subscribers in-store for New Year’s Eve dress shopping:
You can also add a countdown timer as a fun way to communicate important information, such as the last possible time to take advantage of extended holiday hours or a free shipping deadline. Once the deadline has passed, swap out the countdown timer with a link to buy an online giftcard instead. You can even add a deadline to their calendar to remind them to shop, but also to encourage them to shop with you.
It may sound a bit funny, but we’d like to wish you a happy holidays, and more specifically, a happy and productive holiday planning season. This year, consider innovative new personalization strategies to connect with consumers—no matter when they might be shopping.