Retailers: How Good Are Your Holiday Plans?

As holiday 2009 raced to the finish line, I blogged about the disappointing lack of relevance in emails during what is arguably the most important time of the year for many retailers ("Does Holiday Relevance = 40% Off and a Five-Star Review?").

We're all about to take our last deep breath before rushing into the fray for holiday 2010.  So now is a good time to ask: how good are your holiday plans?  Here are three tactics it's not too late to consider.

1.  Holiday-ize your triggered emails. You should already have a program that automatically sends emails based on actions registered users take on your site. (Fellow Email Insider Loren McDonald wrote an excellent article on this topic titled "Triggered Emails: Low Volume, High Returns" earlier this year). Most retailers though, haven't set up trigger programs based on holiday purchase patterns.

Look specifically at purchase patterns in holiday season over the past few years, and you might find some interesting nuggets that can generate new triggers. For example, you might find that shoppers who purchase jewelry at this time of year often also purchase perfume. If you sell both, this type of cross-category marketing could be successful at this time of year. Triggered emails generate high returns at low cost. Augment your holiday program with these money-makers now, while there is still time.

2. Freshen offers and content in transactional emails. Order confirmation emails, shipping confirmation emails, and all the other emails that facilitate your customers' transactions are often created and then ignored as they run in the background. Now is the time to pull them out, shake off the dust, and make sure they contribute to holiday revenue goals.

Email Insiders Alex Madison and Lisa Harmon wrote an excellent article outlining key points to address in order confirmation messages ("The Follow-Through: How to Send Stunning Order Confirmation Messages"). If you don't have time for a full creative redesign, focus on the cross-sell opportunity in these messages. The nice thing about transactional emails is that your customers are much more likely to open and read them.   So your cross-sell offers have a bigger impact than you might expect.

Many retailers will benefit from simply refreshing the creative so that it no longer features an offer last updated in spring of the prior year (or whenever the email was last updated). If you can, though, take it a step further and implement some basic logic that will match the cross-sell offer to the purchase category. The more you can improve your relevance, the more likely you are to drive revenue.

3.      Rethink your segmentation for the season.  If you're lucky enough to have the resources, you have probably already segmented your email list to improve the relevance of your emails. Even if you haven't, though, it's time to make the case for some analytic resources so you can freshen up your segmentation for the holiday.

The holiday season is about splurging -- for family, friends, and self. Your customers change their purchase habits and patterns during this time of year. So segmentation based on spending outside the holiday season isn't going to help much during this season.

Take your purchase history from only holiday-spend months for the past two years, and use that information to create new segments. As you map products to segments, you'll improve relevance for this critical time of year.

Holiday season is not the time of year to make complicated plans or to risk entirely new strategies. However, modifying your tried-and-true tactics to take holiday purchase patterns into account can help make holiday 2010 a success.  It's not too late to get started. 

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