A Perfect Storm for 2021 Holiday Email Marketing

Labor shortages, pent-up consumer demand, and supply chain disruptions could dramatically impact retailers this holiday season. And adding privacy changes on Apple’s new iOS 15 means email marketers face a perfect storm of uncertainty.

Holiday 2021 Email

Start early.  I’ve stressed over the years the importance of early preparation for holiday email marketing. It’s especially critical in 2021, given the likelihood of delays. Review prior years’ email campaign dates and start at least one week earlier.

For example, in 2019 Black Friday occurred on Nov. 29. If you launched promotions one week before (Nov. 22), start them two weeks in advance this year (Nov. 12). Moreover, communicate to shoppers deadline dates for guaranteed delivery by Dec. 25. Include those dates in email and other marketing efforts, as well as on product detail pages. Holiday “final order” dates spur conversions in my experience.

Avoid delivery bottlenecks. Black Friday and Cyber Monday — Nov. 26 and 29 this year — are typically the heaviest volume for holiday email marketing. Seemingly every retailer is competing for consumers’ inboxes. An unfortunate consequence is reduced bandwidth among email servers, resulting in more soft bounces and delayed or undelivered messages.

Beyond deploying campaigns early, consider these tactics:

  • Use simple layouts with minimal dynamic messaging to reduce pre-send processing.
  • Avoid large images and animated GIFs to lower file size.
  • Check your domain and IP reputation frequently.
  • Shun new sending patterns that could harm your domain or IP reputation. An example is deploying a large reactivation campaign to dormant subscribers immediately before Thanksgiving, which could spur spam complaints and thus lower reputation scores.

Sync with social and display campaigns. Email can help the performance of other marketing channels such as social media, display ads, and even direct mail.

Those channels can also help grow subscribers. Take the example below from Grove, which sells sustainable household goods. Grove’s Facebook ad encourages readers to “Join 2,000,000…” subscribers.

This Facebook ad from Grove targets new email signups — “Join 2,000,000…” subscribers.

Offer a gift guide via email. Consumers don’t often know what to buy until they see it. Including a representation of a gift guide in the body of an email allows recipients to shop without clicking, at least initially. The guide could include gift ideas with reminders, again, of final-order dates.

Screenshot of an email gift guide from J.Crew — "shop Gifts for Her."

J.Crew delivered this gift guide via email. “Shop Gifts for Her,” the email reads.

Emphasize loyalty and rewards. Repeat customers are the lifeblood of successful ecommerce companies. Many rely on well-structured rewards or loyalty programs.

Take Old Navy, for example. After nearly every purchase, “Navyist Rewards” members immediately receive $10 or $20 in “super cash” that expires, typically, in one week. Kohl’s uses a similar approach.

Screenshot of a Old Navy email with a $20 loyalty club reward.

Old Navy sends “super cash” rewards to loyalty-club members immediately after each purchase. This example is for $20.

Apple iOS 15

Apple iOS 15 is available Monday, Sept. 19. I’ve addressed that update and its likely dramatic effect on email marketing. Apple will no longer automatically report tracking pixels (which is how email marketing platforms measure opens) without the recipient’s consent. Instead, Apple will, by default, report all emails as having been opened.

Thus heading into the 2021 holiday season, email open rates reported by providers — Mailchimp, Mailup, HubSpot, others — will likely be inflated. Marketers should repurpose all auto campaigns that rely on opens.

Also, iOS 15’s new “Hide My Email” feature allows users to sign up for offers with a temporary, alternate email address, thus hiding a user’s permanent address. The result could be an influx of new subscribers who could quickly unsubscribe or go dormant. Moving forward, ramp up list hygiene and data cleansing to combat bad addresses.

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