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The Top Holiday Email Marketing Tips for 2020

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Christmas puppy
Who doesn't want a puppy for the holidays?

Note: This article originally ran in October 2019. The stats have been updated but the principles remain the same.

The big e-commerce events of the year are sneaking up on us quickly.

Don’t wait until the last minute to plan your holiday email marketing because I’m sure your competitors aren’t...

Especially with Amazon Prime Day now expected to launch in October. Any guesses on when the 2020 online holiday shopping season is going to start? Yeah, I'm betting on October too.

Here are a few fun stats to get you in the seasonal marketing spirit:

  • $730.2 billion in sales took place in November and December 2019, according to the National Retail Federation.

  • Consumers spent an average of $1,048 for the 2019 holiday season.

  • As a result of the pandemic, e-commerce sales came in at $82.5 billion just for the month of May -- eclipsing the entire online 2019 holiday shopping season numbers. This is a 77.8 percent increase over May 2019.

  • Starting Monday and up to Black Friday, email engagement stayed steady in 2019. However, orders dropped over the weekend. This means its a good time to let your customers catch their breath while teasing your Cyber Monday deals.

So, how does your business get your slice of this holiday sales fruitcake?

Tell your customers you are going to save them a lot of money on really cool things they want.

The best way to do that is by email.

Start communicating with your list LEAST once a week leading up to the holidays. If you have the content (not just ads), work your way up to daily.

Holiday email marketing, however, is not just about sales. You are also acquiring new customers and generating leads (i.e., building your list). Lots of them.

With those thoughts in mind, here we go…


Top Holiday Email Marketing Tips for 2020

Know the Major Shopping Days

I won’t cover any non-U.S. holidays here, but start by knowing the major end-of-the-year holidays:

  • Thanksgiving Day (November 26) - Don’t be pushy here. Tease your Black Friday sale (preview sale) or offer an early bird sale for those who were able to successfully escape a dry turkey and “quality” time with the in-laws.

  • Black Friday (November 27) - The BIG day for offering BIG discounts. Don’t skimp today. Offer multiple discounts throughout the day and maybe, just maybe, through the weekend. An effective strategy is to have BIG discounts on Black Friday and offer additional discounts or package pricing on items that didn’t move as well as you expected. Take a close look at your cart abandonment stats.

  • Small Business Saturday (November 28) - This is a faux holiday created by American Express, but if it helps your cash register ring, use it. More details, ideas, and hashtags can be found here:

  • Cyber Monday (November 30) - Keep the sales going. Think of this as Black Friday, Take 2. Again, incredible deals are the name of the game here.

  • Hanukkah (December 10-18) - Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish community and lasts 8 days and nights. This is NOT related to Christmas so keep that in mind in your marketing.

  • Free Shipping Day (December 15) - Free shipping continues to be the top incentive for online shoppers. Use it to your advantage!

  • Christmas (December 25) - More important than Christmas, however, is the countdown to Christmas. A popular tactic is counting down the 12 days of Christmas or Advent calendar (keeping in mind shipping dates!) where you unveil a new deal every day for 12 days.

  • Kwanzaa (December 26 - January 1) - Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday to celebrate African heritage. Families gather together and exchange gifts on the last day so build your promotions around the values treasured by African cultures.

  • New Year’s Day (January 1) - The 2020 holiday season is now over. Finito completo. But, who says you can’t kick off 2021 with some profits? A new year means new beginnings. This is a great time to help people achieve their dreams and goals of weight loss, learning new skills, or pursuing new hobbies.

Start Sooner Than Later

Don’t wait until the last minute to start sending your holiday email marketing campaigns. You’re competing for inbox space the closer we get to those significant dates. Start your campaigns between November 1-15 for the best open rates.

Create Your Holiday Promotion Schedule

Once you know what holidays you will be using for your email marketing, create a balanced distribution schedule. You don’t want to skimp on the emails, but you also don’t want to bury your subscribers’ inboxes. Think carefully about how many emails you’ll need for each promotion and when to send them.

Assign, Delegate or Roll Up Your Sleeves

The holidays are an incredibly busy season without trying to create, launch, monitor, and revise an email marketing campaign. Decide who will be handling what responsibilities internally, such as writing the copy, designing the email, collecting resources, analyzing the data, coordinating with the web team, etc. Decide what will need to be outsourced to external experts and what you are comfortable handling with your team or by yourself.

Give Them What They Want

Between 70-80% of purchases made from email marketing are based on the offer. As much as it pains a writer like me to say this, I only have a small influence on the overall purchasing decision.

Either your offer is incredible.

Or it sucks.

A good starting place to avoid creating sucky deals is to look at your customers’ past shopping patterns. If you don’t know, run a survey. Send the questionnaire to all of your email subscribers and share it on your social media channels. Find out what they are most interested in receiving from your business this holiday season.

Use that feedback not only to increase sales but also to improve the content of your emails. You should also use this information to segment your list.

Now is not the time for pray-and-spray email tactics. Give your subscribers highly targeted messages. That process starts by asking yourself, “What value does my subscriber get from reading this email?”

Alternatives to Deep Discounts

Not every holiday sale has to be a deep discount or race to the bottom. Explore other options that maximize the consumer’s feelings that they are getting a deal.

  • Price Guarantee - Alleviate the customers’ anxiety that they’ll find a better price later in the season with a price guarantee. This involves matching your prices as well as those of your rivals. The upside to this is the guarantee provides psychological comfort to buyers but still requires them to do a bit of legwork to monitor prices and contact you to collect.

  • Step Discounts - This taps into the consumer psychology of “If I spend an extra $100, I’ll get an extra 10% off my entire order, so it makes financial sense to buy more now.” Examples of step discounts are 10% off purchases over $199 and increased total discounts at high thresholds such as 15% over $499, 17% over $999, etc.

  • Free Shipping - This may be obvious, but shipping costs can become a deal-breaker for many consumers. Free shipping was listed as one of the most important purchasing decision factors for 47% of consumers during the holiday season.

  • Generous Return Policy - During the holidays, most gifts are bought for other people. Some of those gifts, like a new iPhone, are hits. Others, like the wrong-sized jacket, are not. Approximately 50% of shoppers said that a short time limit for returns prevents them from making a purchase, but 53% said that a 30-day window is fair.

Divvy Up Your List

Segment your subscriber list to ensure you are delivering the right message to the right people at the right time.

You can segment your subscriber list by region, state, gender, or age if that helps. But the best way to segment is by interests (if you collect that info during your email sign-up process), open rates, and previous shopping patterns.

An oversimplified version is an outdoor company that sells hiking boots, winter jackets, hot weather shorts, and climbing harnesses...among several hundred other products. If you have a customer who typically buys winter jackets, don’t target her for your hot weather shorts.

People who receive emails based on previous shopping habits are more likely to make a purchase from your targeting. Like six times more likely.

Be Mobile-Friendly

In 2018, mobile devices accounted for more than 40% of total online sales, and more than one half of the holiday season web traffic came from mobile devices.

Make sure you test your emails on mobile platforms before sending them. Check that your logo, graphics, and text layout are what you want them to be. There’s nothing more amateurish than having your beautifully designed Black Friday email rendered into gibberish on a customer’s smartphone or tablet.

Include Social Proof

Shoppers want to know they are getting a good deal on a great product or service. They also want to know those other people like what you’re selling, so make sure to share testimonials and product reviews.

Reward Loyalty

Yes, you should have sales on your website. You should also have deals that are exclusive to your email subscribers. Promote these on your sign-up form to build your list.

Share a Holiday Gift Guide

This one is a no-brainer and super effective at increasing sales. But not many of the smaller retailers do it. You can create the guide in the email or create a new web page highlighting relevant products. You can showcase categories by interest, age, price, etc. Use high-quality photos and not the ones you took with your smartphone. Make sure you link to this guide in every holiday email you send.

Send Often

Don’t just send sale email and wait for your inventory to magically disappear. It can take 6-9 emails to generate a viable sale.

Measure Your Results

Before you send your first email, you need to decide how you will measure the success of your marketing efforts. What do you want your engagement rates to be? What conversion rate are you wanting to get?

Base your 2019 holiday marketing on past data so you have realistic expectations for your industry and specifically, your list’s behaviors.

Test. Test. Test.

You should also have your testing plan mapped out before the campaign is launched. Much like the famous Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” your holiday email campaign needs to be flexible enough to change throughout the campaign.

Your brilliant subject line could tank, so start by split-testing. From there, look at which call to action is getting the most click-through rates and conversions. Running these kinds of A/B tests will help you get an objective handle on what messaging is selling and what messaging is not.

Turn These Ideas Into Action

There’s a good chance you’re already doing a lot of what I’ve described above. You’ve spent the previous 10 months providing value to your customers and being more than just a seller of things or services. You’ve become a trusted resource.

Now it’s time to end the year with a bang and record profits. I hope this advice will help you make this your most successful holiday season yet.

If you feel overwhelmed and in need of some help, let’s talk.


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