October 20, 2021

How ecommerce marketing saved Christmas

From personalised wish lists to mobile-first ads — here's how your ecommerce marketing should change during the holiday season.

Steph Bailey

5 min read

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We know, it’s not even Halloween yet. But the holiday season — or the period from November to early January when consumers spend tons of money on Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s gifts — is fast approaching.

Now’s the time for ecommerce startups to kickstart their holiday marketing plans, presenting a golden opportunity to attract new customers and put a rocket booster under their sales figures. 

“The holiday season is such an important time for ecommerce companies due to the sheer volume of orders coming through during this period of time,” says Monica Deretich, CX marketing consultant and lead retail advisor at email service provider Sailthru. “It’s a time of year where the customer has a specific mindset of shopping for others, whereas the rest of the year they’re purchasing for themselves.” 


Adjusting your marketing towards this gift-shopping mentality is a great way to introduce new people to your brand as well as retain loyal customers, she says. 

But what does that really mean? Here’s some top tips on how to sleigh the competition with your marketing this holiday season.

Ho ho hone your communication channels

For Deretich, ecommerce marketing for the holidays is about tailoring all your channels — email, in-app notifications and SMS messages — toward holiday-specific customer behaviour. 

“Customer behaviour leading to the holidays can be notably different,” she says. “People are likely browsing their emails with the intent of searching for a great deal, or perhaps loading up their carts if they’re interested in products in the future.” 

Deretich adds that while mobile phones are important year-round, as ecommerce traffic increases over the holidays tailoring strategy to mobile is crucial. A recent Sailthru report found nearly 50% of all retail customers browsed products and made purchases on their smartphone this year, with mobile traffic increasing to as much as 80% for some brands.

Customer behaviour leading to the holidays can be notably different. People are likely browsing their emails with the intent of searching for a great deal, or perhaps loading up their carts if they’re interested in products in the future.

Companies should adopt a mobile-first attitude, which means optimising all email templates for mobile and linking to mobile apps during the online shopping journey. 

Businesses should also capitalise on increased holiday traffic when thinking about ad targeting. Throughout the year businesses often use frequency caps, which means restricting the number of times a specific visitor to your website receives the same triggered email, such as reminding them about their abandoned cart. But Deretich suggests lifting these caps during the holidays to increase your brand’s presence.

“Make sure the brand is top of mind,” she says. “Because site traffic is [usually] coming from a mobile device and there’s usually notifications and text messages that can distract the customer.” 

Create chemis-tree with customers

To build loyalty, Deretich says it’s important to personalise communication with customers. This relies on collecting customer data, either from the beginning, such as asking site visitors and newsletter subscribers for their gender identity or birthday, or throughout the customer journey, with custom communication paths and interactive elements, like a review button or a quiz.

“If someone’s providing their email address [when signing up for a newsletter or updates] and it has a toggle button at the top that says ‘men’s’, ‘women’s’ or ‘show me all’, it really puts the power in the consumer to say what they want,” she says. “If I opt out then I would continue to see both and then AI would start to identify interests. But collecting explicit data such as gender identity or even birthday upfront really gives a starting point of relevancy.”


According to McKinsey, marketing that uses customer data can boost sales by 15 to 20%. This could be anything from using purchase history to emailing customers with products they might like to sending customers a discount on their birthday.  

Collecting explicit data such as gender identity or even birthday upfront really gives a starting point of relevancy.

Treat yo’elf with personalised wish lists

Online wish lists are a great way of capitalising on customers who are already interested in making a purchase. 

Add the option to easily move abandoned cart items to a wish list with a “save for later” button, or if that buyer doesn’t take action, use the item as a starting point for your next personalised holiday marketing email.

“If there’s a threshold offer or a ‘buy one, get one’ promotion plan for the holidays, it’s an interesting way to work the wishlist into a creative marketing campaign — like ‘get one for your friend, one for you’,” Deretich says. 

Mystery offers are another way to make wish list emails more potent. For example, clothing brand Fabletics used a click-to-reveal button on one of their marketing emails last holiday season to replicate the experience of unwrapping a present. 

According to Sailthru, these mystery offers are most effective early on in the holiday season and when used in conjunction with in-store offers. 

Oh deer, Covid-19 is still here

Of course, the holidays are likely to be different again this year — and brands need to be prepared to communicate any pandemic-related changes or disruptions to their customers.

Customers will want timely and accurate emails that apply to them.

“As we all navigate the pandemic, it’s crucial for companies to ensure their communications around updates to things like what’s going on at their local physical store in regards to Covid-19 protocols, or if they are shopping online, order fulfilment delays, are ready.” Deretich says. “Customers will want timely and accurate emails that apply to them.” 

Even after the pandemic, Sailthru’s report found customers plan to continue to buy online, pick up in store and use curbside delivery services — so clearly communicating these options to potential customers can mean the difference between a big sale and no sale.

Use automation so customers aren’t left out in the cold

Changing communication at a moment’s notice because of, for example, new Covid-19 precautions, is made a lot easier if you’re able to automate. 

For example, Sailthru’s automation tools allow businesses to quickly add new details across communication channels, so customers aren’t caught off guard by new safety measures or changing store operations.

“Sailthru helps marketers automate their marketing activities and the goals of achieving higher engagement,” says Deretich, and it’s why Sailthru is “the largest sender of personalised email in the world”. 

Get all these tips and more in Sailthru’s Holiday Marketing Playbook

Steph Bailey

Steph Bailey is head of content at Sifted. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn