Do Your Holiday Emails Land on the Naughty or Nice List?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
With brands big-time selling, and every store telling you,
“Come and shop here!”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! 

Customers started singing brands’ praises a little early this year as most kicked off their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day and continued all the way through Cyber Monday and the extended sales of “spillover Tuesday.” And while some retail emails brought tidings of good cheer, others left customers feeling like Scrooge.

Jim Davidson, Bronto Software’s manager of marketing research and composer of its Holiday Lookbook, agreed to share which email trends were naughty and which ones were nice.

The Nice List

Tell consumers how to shop 

Traditionally, marketers like to deck their emails with products, promotional codes, and discount offers. But Davidson says cluttering emails with extra trimmings can leave subscribers feeling overwhelmed. Instead, he applauds brands that took the simpler route this Thanksgiving holiday and focused on how consumers could shop and save. 

Outdoor apparel and accessories retailer Eddie Bauer was one brand that made Davidson’s nice list this season. On Black Friday, Eddie Bauer gave the gift of simplification by telling consumers exactly what they needed to know to save online and in-store. On the left side of the email Eddie Bauer catered to online shoppers and announced that the brand was having a 30% off sale and that it was offering free shipping and returns on all orders. It also included the promotional code and two call-to-action buttons that allowed people to shop by gender. On the right side the brand addressed in-store shoppers by announcing a 40% off in-store sale and by providing a “find a store” call-to-action button.

“It’s taking out all of the typical things that you see in a lot of these emails—[like] shipping expiration dates and additional product images—and really getting to that point of, ‘Get on our site, start shopping, here’s how you save,’” Davidson says.

Check those automated messages twice

Rather than shoveling on the emails, marketers need to tailor their automated messages—such as their welcome emails and daily deals—to make sure that they don’t repeat messages or send more emails than necessary, Davidson says.

“[The Thanksgiving holidays] are the busiest days for the inbox, and a lot of retailers forget to look at their automated messages,” he says. “I saw a lot of retailers introduce additional messages into this very high cadence day that they probably didn’t even think about.”

Bags and accessories company eBags was one retailer that followed this advice. The retailer transformed its “Steal of the Day” email into “Steals of the Season.” It also featured a Black Friday announcement at the bottom of the email and included a code customers could text to receive alerts throughout the season, Davidson says.

Optimize for mobile

Given the high number of in-store shoppers during the Thanksgiving weekend who were toting their mobile devices for price checks, promotions, and purchasing, optimizing emails for mobile should be a no brainer, Davidson says. He also says creating emails that can be read, engaged with, and clicked through are essential to making a sale.

“You have to really think about that multidevice, multichannel shopper,” Davidson says.

Home furniture and decor brand West Elm is another brand that made the nice list this year. Davidson says one of West Elm’s Thanksgiving holiday weekend emails highlighted the brands sales with large content in a large font. And although West Elm packed a lot of different discounts into one email, all of the content was tappable and easy to read on a mobile device, he notes.

Davidson points out that designing emails optimized for mobile doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. A few quick tweaks marketers can make include featuring only the navigation items that drive the most sales and segmenting shoppers based on previous purchases, he says.

The Naughty List

Don’t make them work for it

Holiday shoppers don’t want to waste time searching for the best deal. They want it right in front of them so they can purchase an item and cross one more name off their shopping list. Making shoppers hunt for deals causes them to lose time and interest, which can lead to lost sales.

For example, Davidson says that one cosmetic company featured a mystery savings event in its Black Friday email. And while mystery coupons are great for getting customers to visit a site and put items in their cart, the Thanksgiving holiday rush isn’t the time to do it, he says.

One thing you really want to think about…as you get closer to those shipping expirations and the 25th, is that you’re lowering the amount of work that your customer has to do to find savings and buy the product rather than putting the barrier between those,” Davidson says.

Deliver fresh content

Retailers sent an average of 1.7 messages on Cyber Monday this year, Davidson says. So, most brands were sending more than one email a day. Davidson says this can be an effective strategy as long as the brand doesn’t deliver stale content. For example, one retailer sent him the same email—featuring the same products, images, and offers—nine times within 48 hours.

“You need to illustrate a variety of products and different visuals to really keep your message fresh and speak to the sales that you have, the availability, and how they’re going to save,” Davidson says.

Be smart with your timing

Announcing a sale early to build anticipation is effective, but only if marketers plan their timing correctly, Davidson points out. For example, he says that he received an email from a craft store at 8 a.m. on Black Friday announcing its Black Friday Night Madness Sale, which began at 7 p.m.

“Here I am going through my inbox, trying to find some deals and buy some stuff, and I get this email for a sale that I can’t even shop,” he says.

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