1. Marketers will send more responsive emails on high-mobility days. After the last holiday season, the shift to mobile reading of emails is now unequivocally too big to ignore. Retailers have finally gotten the message and have made a mobile-friendly overhaul of their email templates a priority this year.
Most retailers have taken incremental steps, with many adopting mobile-optimized templates in recent months. But on the days during the holiday season when subscribers are most mobile — like the day before Thanksgiving (the busiest travel day of the year), Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and on weekends during December — I expect to see lots of experimentation with adaptive and responsive templates and messaging that really speaks to a customer on the move.
This holiday season will be a dress rehearsal for responsive email design, which will go mainstream next year.
2. Free gift cards will be the new “free shipping.” With the majority of retailers now offering free shipping throughout the holiday season — and quite a few offering free shipping year-round — free shipping is losing its oomph as an effective incentive. It has become expected, especially during the Christmas season.
But retailers are clearly searching for the next “free shipping” offer, an offer that consumers value significantly more than it costs retailers to supply. That magic offer may be a free gift card or e-gift card. Profit margins, less than 100% redemption rates and average order values that exceed card values mean gift cards cost retailers less than the face value to provide, plus they drive repeat and referral business — particularly attractive during the holiday season, when there are many one-time purchasers. Look for free gift cards to be promoted most vigorously in November, when there’s still plenty of time for subscribers to spend that gift card on another gift.
My only concern here is that some retailers are undercutting the attractiveness of this promotion by deceptively promoting “gift cards” that have expiration dates — which means they’re actually just coupons and not gift cards at all.
3. Triggered email programs will have a significant impact on customer service and sales. Shopping cart abandonment emails, back-in-stock notifications, browse abandonment emails, and other triggered email programs are starting to see greater adoption. Because these emails are triggered by subscriber behavior, such as leaving an item in their shopping cart, they arrive at a time when subscribers are most receptive to their message, as evidenced by the outsized ROIs these programs generate.
While triggered emails do take time to establish and optimize, especially more advanced ones like browse abandonment emails, the good news is that ESPs are making them progressively easier to set up. I expect many retailers to introduce new and newly optimized triggered email programs over the next six weeks or so in preparation for the holiday season, when these emails really shine.
I also expect more retailers to introduce seasonal imagery and messaging to existing triggered emails for the duration of the holiday season. This Walmart welcome email and Williams-Sonoma browse abandonment email are great examples of adding seasonal relevant to triggered emails.
4. Black November will be resurgent. In 2012, year-over-year promotional email volume growth during November lagged the average monthly growth for the year for the first time in a while. This year we’ll revert back to higher than average growth in November, in part because Hanukkah is super-early this year, beginning on the evening of Nov. 27, which is the day before Thanksgiving, and ending on Dec. 5.
I expect to see more “Black Friday” pricing and deals being promoted on the Fridays leading up to Black Friday. There should be a significant volume pop on Nov. 1, which happens to be a Friday this year.
5. More subject lines will include special characters. Early last year, the trend of using special characters in subject lines took off and was becoming well established by the back-to-school season. But worries about deliverability and holiday season conservatism caused many brands to halt their use of special characters. Those worries proved unfounded.
While about 1% of retail email subject lines used special characters during 2012, recently usage was hovering at a little under 3%. I expect that number to hold during the holiday season and perhaps even spike a bit on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday when marketers will be trying harder to stand out.
Good luck with your holiday email marketing planning!