The Holidays Are Humming: Small Retail Businesses Gear Up With Email

Labor Day is not here yet, but the elves are already hard at work, busily planning their holiday email campaigns and trying to figure out how to do more with less, judging by This Holiday Season: An Eye Toward Innovation, a study by Emma, a CM Group company. 

At least that’s how it is for nonprofits and small businesses like restaurants and dry cleaners, the focus of this survey. They expect their strategy to change in the following ways:

  • Exploration of new and innovative methods to reach and build relationships with customers — 37.1%
  • Use of new types of data or increased efforts to segment, target and/or personalize — 34.3% 
  • Think beyond business as usual, with renewed focus on testing and experimentation — 22.9%
  • Testing messaging that is more positive, self-indulgent or celebratory — 17.1%
  • More focus on short-term deliverables that allow for better adaptability — 14.3% 
  • Not sure — 14.3%
  • More cross-team collaboration/cohesion for a better omnichannel experience — 11.4%
  • Other — 2.9%
  • No change — 2.9%



Moreover, they are testing new approaches after a year of cautious pandemic-oriented messages — specifically, new creative (42%), new messaging (39%) and personalization (39%). Email is the primary channel for 47%, the study says.  

But here’s one caveat: Emma surveyed only 44 of its own customers, so this study is likely not projectable.

Moreover, Emma is primarily an email platform, so it follows that its clients use email.

Within those limits, this study can be seen as an informal anecdotal update on what to expect this holiday season.   

Here are the biggest challenges faced by firms in this survey group this year:  

  • Achieving more with less resources — 27.5% 
  • Assessing 2021 performance against 2020 — 22.5%
  • Uncertainty around future consumer behavior — 17.5% 
  • Customer acquisition and/or retention — 10%
  • Other — 5%
  • Forecasting — 5%
  • Lack of historical data to use to plan for future trends — 2.5%
  • Splitting resources across both digital and in-person — 2.5% 

Which channels are they investing in to create a solid omnichannel experience? 

  • Email marketing — 25%
  • None due to budget — 21.4%
  • CRM — 16.1%
  • QR Code — 14.3% 
  • SMS Messaging — 12.5%
  • AI-Powered Software — 13.6% 
  • Voice — 13.5% 
  • Chatbox — 1.8%
  • Other — 1.8%

One restaurant client, North Italia, sees email as a productive tool. 

“During the pandemic, we had an influx of guests whose first experience with our restaurant was via takeout only,” states DJ Duporte, senior marketing manager at North Italia.

Duporte adds, “Now, as more has opened up, we’ve been able to convert many of those customers into dine-in guests through our successful email campaigns, giving them the full experience as part of our family, which will continue to be a focus for us.”  

What do SMBs and nonprofits think customers want this holiday season? They predict:

  • Meaningful opportunities to engage with your brand — 29% 
  • Personalized content, messaging and offers — 29% 
  • In-person experiences — 19.4%
  • Other — 9.7%
  • A seamless omnichannel experience — 6.5% 
  • Unique digital experiences — 3.2% 

Meanwhile, here are some results from last year. We quote:

  • 32% experienced higher open rates and click-to-open rates. 
  • 25% experienced higher email subscribers and drove higher send volume. 
  • 23% experienced higher click-through rates. 

What should small businesses do this year? 

“In order to connect effectively with audiences this holiday season, we recommend that organizations create a program to build testing, segmentation and personalization into everything they do,” states Javi Cano, director of marketing at Emma. 

Cano adds: “With a continuous feedback loop of learning and insight, organizations can ensure that their investments in new messaging and innovations pay off this holiday season and beyond.”


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