Getting email right for a successful Christmas season

By Sam Holding, head of International at SparkPost

Annual retail sales and profits skyrocket over the Christmas season, According to the National Retail Federation, Christmas sales can be 20-40% of a retailer’s annual sales.

Given the stop-start nature of 2021, most UK retailers want to close out with the biggest revenues they can this year. During the pandemic, online sales in the UK rose by 48%, and with planning for Christmas in full swing, retailers are under more pressure than ever to meet customer demand. It is therefore vital that brands maximise returns on this year’s festive period, and upping their email game is integral.

This year the focus on consumer behaviour and how we are moving out of lockdown will mean that retailers will need to maintain a flexible approach, this could well mean (yet another) ‘pivot’ moment from high street to online shopping. Email is the ideal channel to use to be responsive to ever-changing restrictions, ensuring shoppers can still buy what they want when they want.

With consumers seeking fast, convenient ways to shop, there is a need to concentrate on the integration of channels and personalisation – again something email is great for (if you get it right). Email is the channel that can bring the adaptability and responsiveness that retailers will require this year to support revenue goals.

Despite all of the challenges consumers faced in 2020/21, their engagement with email has remained stable. We know that marketers have continued to invest in email throughout the pandemic. Email remains a channel of choice for marketers and in terms of overall sending volume globally, this has remained stable throughout.

Email has shown its resilience during the crisis, and if anything, it continues to grow in importance for consumers and brands. That is why these summer months are the most crucial time for email planning and data cleansing. If not already, now is the time for marketers to be looking at optimising their email programmes and performance, to prepare for a successful season.

Why is email the No.1 channel?

A 2020 survey of UK marketers found that for every £1 spent on email marketing, the approximate return of investment was found to be as high as £35.

Email is one of the only channels that can put customers into such an effective and trackable nurture funnel, and perhaps the most effective at it – generating 50% more sales than other lead nurture channels.

Email can be used to:

  1. Deliver significant value and revenue for businesses.
  2. Allow marketers to be responsive to changing consumer demands.
  3. Personalise the journey for customers, meaning better engagement & nurturing.
  4. Reach high volume audiences with varied content.
  5. Reward and incentivize your most loyal customers to drive additional revenue.

But to unlock all of this potential, marketers need to invest the time and effort to get it right – especially retailers leading up to their busiest time of year. Dealing with disparate teams, countless segments and multiple approvals takes up a lot of time and resources to get emails out the door. Not to mention the efforts to ensure emails are reaching the customers’ inboxes!

Using the right tools, insights and data and by following the best practice guidance below businesses can improve email performance and deliverability and set B2C and DTC brands up for success this Christmas (and all year round!):

1. Start re-engaging dormant/less active users now (don’t wait until just before Christmas!) – by doing some pre-holiday campaigns businesses can ramp up volume, and make sure to be done re-engaging customers ahead of the seasonal campaigns. If businesses are going to see significant volume change for Black Friday onwards, then they should start now. ISPs are watching closely at this time of year, what volumes mailers send and the way audiences respond. If they see a huge increase in volume, that’s when they could react, causing negative impacts to deliverability.

2. Incentivise loyal customers

Ramp up loyalty activities, starting now – and email is a great way to communicate loyalty benefits. Remember your existing customers, not just offers for new customers. Brands can make a real statement of intent here, and getting on this now will help foster more loyalty and build a long-term, value-driven relationship between the brand and the customer, which will secure their business for Christmas (and beyond, into repeat Christmas’s)

3. Get your timing right

The likes of Amazon will be ahead of the game and in customers’ inboxes well in advance. If brands are consistently part of the inbox during an event’s earliest run-up, they are more likely to be seen, read, remembered, and acted upon during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other holiday events.

4. Precise targeting

Do not keep on mailing people that are not engaging. Mailers should go through test segments and into inbox user journeys and if there are 90 days of mail daily with no open and no clicks, this person is not going to buy. The key to driving robust rates of engagement is precise targeting of category-specific mailings to customers most likely to buy from those categories. This offsets the risk of opt-out from over-mailing irrelevant content.

5. Utilise an Email Design System (EDS) for speed and efficiency

Producing and designing emails takes up a huge amount of time and resources. Investing in a good Email Design System is vital and can speed up email production processes significantly. help everyone on the team make the best email by:

  • Delivering a more consistent brand experience
  • Implementing (and sticking to) email best practices
  • Preventing brands from making mistakes
  • Speeding up email production processes significantly, from a lead time of weeks to days
  • Optimising and testing on multiple devices
  • Delivering email campaigns in multiple languages, regions and formats at scale

It’s important to note that Email Design Systems take time to set up, plan and create, but once created marketers (email or not!) will have a world where they can confidently build emails quickly, efficiently and without mistakes. Starting now means brands will be in great shape creating their Christmas campaigns. Teaming it with an email productivity platform like Taxi for Email can supercharge output and optimisations. Having a much more efficient workflow means email teams are less frustrated and stressed at a traditionally stressful time of year, which in itself improves email performance.

6. Personalisation

Name personalisation is ideal for getting your customer’s attention, and something as simple as this can increase ROI from 42:1 to 44:1 but personalisation can go a lot deeper than just a name. With the right tools, you can populate message content consistent with elements of targeting, including product references and specificity on offer expirations and shipping deadlines. You can use location personalisation to communicate in-store events, store operating policies, and Christmas opening hours.

7. Strip out inactive data to ensure inbox performance

Focus on maintaining a healthy list. This means basic list hygiene practices, and identifying and suppressing inactive and dormant subscribers ahead of time. Recent user email engagement is a heavily weighted factor in the algorithms used by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in their spam filters. Emailing previously inactive (haven’t opened a brand’s email in 60-90 days or more) risks these mailers’ emails being blocked. The Christmas season generates a disproportionate share of retail sales and profits so it’s the worst time to be risking inbox issues. For certain businesses, the pandemic may have caused certain email audiences to become inactive or much less active. Brands should add these customers to their target audiences gradually.

8. Keep an eye on competitors

Watch the competition, as well as customers. What campaigns are key competitors mailing? How often? What offers and how are they performing? This type of information can support program planning, as well as timely, critical mid-course corrections within the Christmas season itself.  Sparkpost’s Competitive Tracker can provide these insights.

Timely, flexible, targeted informational communications will be more critical than ever, above and beyond the usual robust promotional flow. Marketers, if they aren’t already, need to start planning now for an effective email marketing program that supports revenue goals for Christmas 2021.


Sparkpost’s Sending & Deliverability Platform has several tools that can help customers plan, execute and optimise their email programmes, as well as an Email Design System (EDS) Solution called Taxi for Email to execute emails with speed, accuracy and efficiency at scale.

Sources for statistics:
Why email is the key channel in your marketing strategy

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