It’s no surprise this year’s biggest shopping season is going to look a little different due to COVID-19 and its impact changing the retail landscape. Many brands have been fighting an uphill battle during this pandemic to stay relevant in the mind of the consumer. In order to adequately plan for a successful holiday shopping season, it’s critical for brands to get ahead of the game and strategize on how to optimize email to boost the consumer experience and drive sales. But how do you know where to focus your email marketing efforts, and what can you do now to prepare for this year’s unique holiday shopping experience?
The most effective strategies this season will focus on providing consumers with options and convenience. Consumers have already had to adjust their lives to accommodate for COVID-19 and the last thing many will want to do is burden themselves with the added stress of shopping. As a result, brands that have already taken steps to accommodate consumer needs are ahead of the game for the holiday season. If you act now, it’s not too late to adjust your efforts to meet the changing needs and expectations of consumers, including:
- Allow customers to shop how they want, when they want. Examples include curbside pick-up, buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), and free shipping. This provides consumers flexibility based on their own comfort level for venturing out in public while still driving sales. Within your email, be sure to capitalize on this opportunity by allowing subscribers to find their nearest store location for a more personalized subscriber experience.
- Outline any steps taken to provide a safe shopping environment. Whether it’s limiting store hours, limiting the number of consumers allowed in at any given time, increasing cleaning frequency within the store, or how store employees will be interacting with consumers, it is important to address customer concerns by providing reassurance. Utilizing email to convey what steps are in place to ensure their safety will help keep consumers at ease and encourage in-store traffic.Some retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have taken it a step further by keeping their stores closed on Thanksgiving as a part of their ongoing efforts to create a safe shopping experience. Not only is this a great way to keep consumers socially distanced on one of the most crowded shopping days of the year, but this is also a wonderful opportunity to show subscribers the ease and convenience of online shopping and encourage future online traffic.
- Provide various payment options. Brands are offering not only contactless payment options in-store, but also offering various payment plans and layaway options. Especially when unemployment is at an all-time high, being empathetic with consumers and providing them flexible options to purchase gifts for their loved ones will build a better shopping experience and consumer loyalty.
- Promote loyalty programs early. If your loyalty program includes exclusive insights and deals, be sure your subscribers not only know about the loyalty program but clearly understand the value of signing up. This is a great opportunity to drive sign ups early in order to generate repeat orders, increase average order values and overall sales per consumer throughout the holiday season. Be proactive about reminding consumers of your loyalty program now before your emails are competing with other senders’ emails during peak holiday season.
- Don’t forget to manage your inventory. Given the current state of social distancing, anticipate higher website traffic than in the past. Be sure to prepare your online and warehouse availability so your merchandise doesn’t sell out too fast, causing a negative experience with your brand. If possible, consider holding back inventory and slowly releasing it so it doesn’t sell out right away, providing more opportunities for more consumers to shop with your brand. If you can restock items after they have sold out, sending a “back in stock” email is not only a great way to notify your consumers to help recapture that revenue, but it can also create a great experience with your brand.
Whether you’re considering providing all or none of these options, email is a highly effective channel to communicate to subscribers what their options are (or in some cases are not) so they can also plan accordingly. With that said, in order to effectively communicate your offerings around the holidays, your email program needs to be in tip-top shape for messages reach the inbox. Where do you start, you ask? Here are a few key areas to begin working on to ensure you have a successful holiday email program.
- Remove unknown users. If you are planning on stretching your subscriber reach during the holidays, be sure to proactively remove any unknown users or suspicious email addresses prior to deployment to preserve your sender reputation. Utilizing a list validation service like Everest for any subscriber email addresses older than one year will help ensure unknown user addresses are removed from your list. Have a tough time justifying removing unknown users from your email list during the holidays? Remember, these email addresses don’t actually belong to a subscriber so there is no benefit in keeping these email addresses on your list.
- “Warm up” your IP to accommodate for the increase in send volume over the holidays. Are you planning on going from sending 100,000 subscribers an email once a week, to sending 1,000,000 subscribers daily? Drastically increasing volume and frequency without a soft warm up will sound the alarm for mailbox providers who could potentially block or bulk your messages until they are able to validate your sender reputation. This can be detrimental to your email program and can be easily avoided by gradually increasing volume and frequency. Furthermore, blasting your subscribers right from the start will only expedite subscriber fatigue and reduce subscriber engagement before the peak holiday season, jeopardizing chances of the customer purchasing from your brand. On a related note, now is not the right time to conduct a full-blown ESP migration or warm up a brand-new IP. Consistency is key and maintaining a healthy sender reputation will be vital for getting into the inbox. If possible, consider holding off on warming up new IPs or migrating ESPs until after the holidays.
- Stand out in a crowded inbox. If you are thinking about increasing volume and frequency during the holidays, you are not alone. Every other retailer is also planning on doing the same. Especially during COVID-19 when brands are already capitalizing on the power of email to reach their subscribers, the use of email has already increased. In order to compete in a crowded inbox, be sure your subject lines are interesting enough to not only capture subscriber attention but are also interesting enough to motivate subscribers to open your email and take action.
- Target your subscribers with relevant, personalized messages. Although subscribers are receiving more emails during the holidays, this doesn’t mean their attention span has also increased. Instead, subscribers are more selective about what emails they do open. It’s one thing to have an intriguing subject line that entices subscribers to open the email, but if the email itself doesn’t resonate, subscribers won’t be compelled to complete the desired action. Moreover, first name personalization doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead subscribers want to see products and information that relate to and benefit them personally. For example, if you have abandoned cart and/or previous purchase history, optimize your personalization powers by sending emails that include content that matters the most to subscribers.
- Monitor your deliverability. Now is not the time to fly blind. Take the guess work out of your campaign performance by monitoring email marketing metrics such as inbox placement, sender score and list hygiene. Everest can provide all of this email insight and more.
In the world of COVID-19 where rules and procedures change on a daily basis, it’s crucial to provide options and convenience for your consumers so they have the best experience with your brand regardless of the situation. Not only do you need to begin putting your holiday strategies into place now, you also need to get your email program holiday ready.