9 Holiday Email Marketing Ideas and Tips 2020 [Updated]

Holiday email marketing

With an ROI of $38 for every $1 spent, there’s no arguing the effectiveness of email marketing.

But while you probably already utilize your email list to drive revenue throughout the year, you may not realize just how much potential the holiday season offers.

According to data from RJ Metrics, the holiday months of November and December drive over 30% more eCommerce revenue than any other month.

And while this certainly makes sense, many businesses aren’t using the necessary email marketing content ideas to take full advantage of the holiday spending surge.

To ensure you’re able to take full advantage, and substantially increase your revenue, let’s dive into a few ideas and holiday email marketing tips that can take your holiday email marketing strategy to the next level. Here are some holiday email marketing ideas and tips for small business owners, among others.

1. Come Up With a Theme

Themes are important for one reason…they work.

As Experian outlined in a 2016 study, holiday-themed email messages led to a 25% increase in transaction rates and an 18% increase in revenue per email when compared to non-themed emails.

While the theme that works best for your brand will depend on what you’re selling, there are a variety of options at your disposal.

Some of the most popular include:

  • Large Discounts. The average consumer spends $967.13 during the holiday season. By creating a theme built around heavy savings, you can help your customers make the most of their budget.
  • Free Shipping. Consumers love free shipping, even more so than fast shipping. And, not only does complimentary shipping increase transaction rates, but it significantly cuts down on cart abandonment rates as well.
  • Gift Card Bonuses. By offering a gift card bonus to customers who spend a certain amount, you’re encouraging a sale now while increasing the likelihood that they, or the person they give the card to, purchases from you in the future.

2. Plan Your Email Series & The Resources You Need

Effective planning is essential to the success of any marketing strategy.

With content marketing, 62% of organizations that document their content marketing strategy judge it to be effective. Only 32% with an undocumented strategy hold the same belief.

Email marketing is no different.

When it comes to planning your email series, there are a few simple steps that you’ll want to follow.

They include:

  1. Identify Your Objective. What is your goal and what metrics will you use to determine success?
  2. Define and Segment Your Audience. What do your customer personas look like and how will you segment your list to target those personas effectively?
  3. Develop a Plan for Email Content. How long will your email series be and what will your email content look like?
  4. Identify Resources Needed to Execute Plan. What email tools and resources will you need to execute your plan?

As you go through the planning process, it’s important that you don’t over complicate things.

Keep it simple by identifying your goal, developing a plan, and sticking to it.

3. Segment Your List and Use Urgency

When it comes to maximizing the potential of your holiday email marketing campaign, segmentation is crucial.

In fact, according to DMA, campaigns that utilize email segmentation generate over 760% more revenue than those that don’t.


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Let’s take a look at a few email marketing ideas for how you can segment your holiday email list:

  • International vs. US Customers. It’s highly likely that a portion of your email list doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. And while it may be difficult to segment based on religious affiliation, utilizing location information for segmentation can increase the likelihood that you’re not targeting the wrong subscribers with holiday-themed messages.
  • Abandoned Carts. Cart abandonment is an issue for all online businesses. By retargeting those subscribers with action-based emails that include urgency (where you offer a coupon or even free shipping for a limited time), you can increase your success rate by as much as 29%.
  • Inactive vs. Active. With the right email marketing tools, you can segment your list based on their past history with your brand. Segmenting by open rates, purchase history, and/or website activity can all lead to increased transaction rates.

While there are dozens of ways you can utilize email segmentation, this is another instance where it’s best to simplify things.

Choose a segmentation strategy that you feel is most likely to help you accomplish your objective and stick to it.

4. Schedule Your Emails

Scheduling is one of the often forgotten about email marketing ideas.

But while it may have been difficult to maintain a consistent email series schedule in the past, marketing automation tools have substantially simplified the process.

And, with 91% of successful marketers claiming that marketing automation is “very important” to their overall success, there’s plenty of reason to jump on board if you haven’t already.

But, when utilizing automation tools for email scheduling, the question still remains what days of the holiday season, and times, lead to the highest transaction rates.

Fortunately, a holiday email study from Experian helps us answer this question.

After analyzing data from 2014 holiday email campaigns, they came to the unsurprising conclusion that Cyber Monday was the day with the highest transaction rate.

Here’s a look at the nine other days that topped the list:


But what about the best time to send your emails?

Well, according to the same Experian study, weekend emails sent between 4AM-12PM had the best revenue performance.

As for when to send on weekdays, our own study on optimal email send times showed that the morning hours between 8AM-12PM were preferred by subscribers.


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As you can see, there’s no definitive data showing us exactly what days and times you should be sending your holiday emails.

Hopefully, however, the data above can help you come to a satisfactory conclusion on what will work best for your business.

5. Theme Your Subject Lines

47% of subscribers open emails based solely on the subject line.

And, since high open rates are necessary to high transaction rates, nailing your subject line is essential.

During the holiday season, one of the best ways to nail this is by getting creative with the theme you’ve chosen for your email series.

For inspiration on how you can do this, check out this post outlining 25 Best Subject Lines to Boost Sales.

6. Use Coupons and Giftcards Wisely

While coupons and gift cards are common offerings for every business throughout the year, they’re especially popular during the holidays.

In fact, according to Giftcards.com, gift card buyers purchase an average of 3.4 cards during the holiday season.

And, with 65% of those gift card owners spending an additional 38% beyond the value of their card, there’s plenty of reason to utilize them in your email marketing campaign.

Let’s take a look at a few ideas for how you can use coupons and gift cards wisely in your campaign:

  • Encourage Current & Future Spending. By offering coupons or gift cards after a customer spends a certain amount, you’re encouraging more spending now while helping increase sales for the future as well.
  • Use Them to Earn Referrals. To increase your email list, and generate more customers, offer coupons and/or gift cards in exchange for subscribers referring their friends and family.
  • Target Last Minute Gift Buyers. Offer last-minute shoppers that are still looking for gifts the opportunity to purchase e-gift cards at a discount.

7. A/B Test

Regardless of whether it’s a landing page, email series or social media advertisement, the average conversion rate for most businesses sits between 1-3%.

Fortunately, by combining conversion rate optimization tactics with A/B testing, you can help increase this number for your holiday email campaign.

When it comes to email A/B testing, there are a variety of different things you can test. Some of the best options include:

  • Personalized Subject Lines
  • Long Form vs Short Form Email Content
  • Changing CTAs Within the Email
  • Changing the Number of CTAs Included in Your Emails
  • Using Images vs No Images
  • Using Different Colors

Once again, it’s important that you keep things simple. Avoid sending radically different emails and focus on testing one or two conversion optimization tactics within each email.

8. Bundle and Upsell Items

According to Entrepreneurs, it’s 68% more expensive to acquire a single dollar from a new customer than it is to upsell your current customers.

With this in mind, upselling should be a top priority for your business during the holiday season.

One way to do this is through bundle sales. If you’ve ever tried to purchase something through Amazon, you’ll recognize this tactic:


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For more on this topic, check out our post How to Upsell Using Email Marketing

9. Stay Focused

As you’re putting the above tips and ideas into place, your success will almost certainly depend on your ability to stick to a single objective until completion.

It’s easy to develop a sense of analysis paralysis as you’re trying to work in tips and strategies from the never-ending resources available on developing an effective holiday email marketing campaign.

Make a decision on how you want to move forward. Develop a process to complete it. Work step-by-step to make it happen.

Using this strategy will help ensure successful execution.

What Are the Types of Holiday Emails?

While we’ll talk later about the importance of themes in your holiday emails, don’t think you’re limited by theme alone. You can send holiday emails of all kinds, including abandoned cart emails, promotional emails, and the classic welcome email. There’s a way to tailor all three types of emails to the season, which we’ll talk about more now.

1. Abandoned Cart Emails

Okay, so let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first by discussing abandoned cart emails. According to data by Rejoiner, most customers, up to 70 percent, will stop short of checking out. Around the holidays, the rate of abandoned carts can increase even more.

There are three reasons for this. The first is that the item the customer wanted has sold out. This happens all the time around the holidays, where there’s a feeding frenzy even for your everyday products. If the customer is too late to see your email, then they could have missed out on what they wanted. Before they realize that, though, they’ll visit your store, poke around, and maybe add another item to their cart. Then they bail.

Data published by the National Retail Federation from last year noted how consumers will spend about $1,007.24 on holiday shopping. To cut costs, shoppers want to find the best deal. That means doing lots of price comparing. Should the customer track down a better deal on someone else’s site than yours, they’ll abandon their cart on your site ASAP.

The last reason consumers might abandon their carts is because of the price of shipping. Consumers love free shipping around the holidays, especially if they spend $50 to $75 or more. If you’re not willing to offer that to them, they’ll go elsewhere.

Knowing what you do now, you must make sure you frame your emails in such a way to alleviate the fears of your customers. For example, you can prepare automated stock emails that go out to your customers who wanted to buy an out-of-stock item. Now they get another chance to jump on the deal before it’s too late.

Short of selling your products for a price so low you don’t turn a profit, it’s hard to convince someone there isn’t a better deal out there. That said, you can win more customers over by writing emails that trigger their fear of missing out or FOMO. This shows how desirable your products are. If you have an influencer who vouches for your products, now’s a great time to mention that as well.

You should also send an email about your shipping policy for the holidays. Maybe you’re willing to do expedited shipping if a customer orders by a certain date. If they spend $50, $75, or even $100, you might offer free shipping. By spelling this all out upfront, there’s less ambiguity about your shipping policy. That could lessen your rate of abandoned carts.

2. Promotional Emails

What kind of promotions are you running for the holiday season? Maybe it’s gift wrapping, gift cards, or the abovementioned free shipping if you spend a certain amount of money. Whatever it is, these topics become the crux of your promotional emails. It’s also important your emails be as relevant as possible, so you must use lead segmentation and targeting.

This time of year, your promotional emails may be decorated with Thanksgiving theming. Once we get past November, you should switch to Christmas theming instead. Your series of emails, no matter how they look, must have a call to action or CTA. This can be a button or a link. By using urgent-sounding language, like ORDER NOW or SHOP IMMEDIATELY, you could convince some reluctant customers to get off the fence.

3. Welcome Emails

As we’ve written about on this blog before, your welcome email has some of the highest open rates of any you’ll send. This email is rife with opportunity, then.

Around the Christmas season, you still want your welcome email to contain an introductory element. If you skip the relationship-building stuff and jump right into making sales, you could turn off your new customer.

Besides the introductions, you do want to get the customer to take action, and the sooner, the better. You should provide exclusive deals or coupons for first-time buyers. To make their holiday shopping that much easier, offer shipping updates in real-time so the customer can track their order from start to finish.

Tips for Your 2020 Holiday Season Email Marketing Campaigns

Want even more tips for a successful season of holiday email marketing? Here are some methods for shaping your campaign in 2020 and beyond.

1. Use List Segmentation

We mentioned segmentation earlier in this guide, but we want to circle around back to it now. You want to appeal to the widest number of customers with your products, but you have to whittle down your audience to segments to do that.

For instance, if you send out an email promoting men’s ties, how much of your audience will bite? Your younger male shoppers around 18 years old probably don’t have much of an occasion to wear a tie, so they won’t buy. Only women who need a tie as a gift for the men in their life will shop.

That’s why you must segment your audience. In doing so, you’d have an audience who does want your men’s ties. You’d also have audience segments interested in the rest of what you sell. While you do have the freedom to cross-sell related products, list segmentation ensures everyone gets emails about what they actually want to buy.

2. Don’t Wait Until November to Prepare Your Holiday Email Marketing Campaign

In a 2018 report, Litmus noted that it’s uncommon for companies to have a long-term holiday marketing campaign planned out. Only a little more than 20 percent of the respondents had a marketing plan set in place three months before the holidays.

If you’re one of those last-minute planners, you definitely want to avoid making the same mistake next year. Not rushing to deploy your holiday email marketing campaign can benefit you in many ways. For one, you can review all your metrics, including smaller ones, to see which tweaks you should make for next year. Planning early gives you that kind of time.

Also, you can take your time on each part of your marketing strategy. From content to social media and writing emails, you don’t have to do these as fast as possible. Few things are more embarrassing than sending out a welcome email with a glaring typo or a promotion email with a punctuation error in the headline, which can happen in haste. Luckily, that’s all avoidable if you get into the game early.

3. Stick with the Trends

The reason something trends is because it works. To guide which elements you include in your marketing campaign for 2020, just take a look at what performed well in 2018.

Here’s an overview of what marketers did for their holiday campaigns last year:

  • Holiday images and themes: We mentioned before about the importance of theming your emails to the holidays. Nothing says you’re trying to save your customers money on their Christmas shopping than an email decorated with snowflakes, Santa, and reindeer.
  • Mobile-friendliness: It doesn’t matter if it’s 2020, 2021, or 2025. If people are on their smartphones and tablets, then they appreciate mobile-friendly content. Please don’t lose sight of that in the middle of your holiday marketing.
  • Winback emails: A few times of the year are better for trying to reclaim lost customers than the holidays. If you have a shiny new product or a sparkly fresh deal, try dangling the bait and see who goes for it. You could earn a few former customers back!
  • Shopping gift guides: For those who don’t know what to buy, a holiday gift guide is a godsend. You’d send this digital guide in an email that’s rife with shopping links and CTAs.

Dominate Your Holiday Email Marketing!

Armed with the email marketing ideas outlined above, you should be well on your way to dominating with email this holiday season and help your subscribers to make their holiday shopping experience a memorable one.

Get started today and discover just how powerful these ideas and tips can be for your own holiday campaign and enjoy enhanced holiday sales.

Here are a few other EngageBay blogs to help inspire some email marketing tips:

Vinay Koshy is a market research and SEO consultant. He writes for EngageBay about marketing strategies that really work, and the best tools in marketing automation today.

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