Ring-Cha-Ching, Hear Them Ring

Long before retailers hang any wreaths or tinsel in their stores, they send out emails promoting their Christmas deals to their subscribers-lots of emails! Last year I tracked more than 2,000 emails from nearly 100 top online retailers during the fourth quarter and released daily reports on strategies, tactics and trends via RetailEmail.Blogspot.

Based on those reports, the Email Experience Council has produced "Ring-Cha-Ching, Hear Them Ring: The Guide to Gearing Up for the Holiday Email Season," a helpful roadmap to the email holiday.

While last year the retail email holiday season began on Sept. 6 with a holiday reference in a Sam's Club email, this year's holiday email season has already begun. Hallmark kicked things off with a reference to holiday ornaments in an Aug. 14 email and KB Toys followed up last week with emails about the "Season's Hottest Pre-orders."

That said, the holiday season for email marketers doesn't really get cooking until the days right before Halloween, and then comes to a boil in early December. So there's still plenty of time to plan how you're going to break through the clamor in your subscribers' inboxes.

There's a lot of competition, and it only intensifies as the retail email holiday season peaks about a week before Christmas. During last year's holiday season -- which we defined as the five-week period of Nov. 18 to Dec. 22 -- retailers increased their email volume by 47% on average as compared to the 15 weeks prior (Aug. 5 to Nov. 17), upping their send rate to 2.2 emails per week from 1.5 emails per week.
And that doesn't include the special opt-in email series launched by several retailers, including Petco, Home Depot and the Sears brands.

That puts a lot of pressure on retailers to stand out. Not surprisingly, one of the ways that retailers try to get more attention for their emails is by offering free shipping in their subject lines. A few months ago I did some research that showed that during February, March and April, the subject lines of 14% of retail emails included the words "free shipping" (or the equivalent).

Looking back at Christmas-related retail emails during the 2006 holiday season, I found that they used free shipping offers in their subject lines nearly 20% of the time -- excluding offers of $1 and 99 cent shipping deals and other discounted shipping offers.

The guide also includes discussions and examples of the "12 Phases of Christmas," the 12 strategies that retailers use at different points in the holiday season. Those strategies go from the first secondary holiday references to promoting e-gift cards and "buy online, pick up in store" services to post-Christmas sales.

Here are more metrics and advice from the guide:



  • Email volume should peak in the second week of December this year.

  • Last year 29% of major retailers promoted e-gift cards in their emails during the week before Christmas and Christmas Day.

  • Seven of the eight biggest retail email volume days of the year occurred in the weeks before Christmas last year. Those days included Cyber Monday (Nov. 27) and all three "Echo Mondays" (Dec. 4, 11 and 18) -- the Mondays that follow Cyber Monday. Interestingly, two of the three Echo Mondays were bigger email days than Cyber Monday, which is billed as the biggest online sales day of the year.

  • Just as some online and multichannel retailers promote Thanksgiving Day sales to get a leg up on offline competitors whose stores are closed on that day, some will also begin their post-holiday sales on Christmas Day and promote them in their email campaigns.
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