Digital MarketingCan retailers have a successful holiday season without Black Friday? The short answer: Yes

Can retailers have a successful holiday season without Black Friday? The short answer: Yes

With the potential to be one of the biggest online shopping seasons, email marketers need to take the right steps now to ensure their messages get through for a successful 2020 holiday season.

30-second summary:

An early start to the online holiday shopping calls for marketers to:

  • Address email performance and deliverability issues now.
  • Perform data fixes to improve sender reputation.
  • Identify small email issues that can lead to big problems.
  • Use data from email and other marketing channels to see how subscribers are responding to messages.

More than a few industry watchers believe that the 2020 holiday shopping season started in October.

One of the biggest reasons for this was Amazon’s decision to move its Prime Days up to mid-October, with Target following suit. Both events took place October 13-14, along with other companies, like Walmart, who made sure not to miss out by launching their own versions with “don’t miss” deals.

Another reason for the early start to holiday shopping in 2020 is that consumers are home and on their devices more than ever before.

In fact, according to global business data company Statista, which provides insights and facts across 170 industries and 150+ countries, since March of 2020, global usage of smart/mobile phones has gone up 70% worldwide, with a 40% increase in the United States and a whopping 86% increase in China.

The research doesn’t lie. When Salesforce conducted a consumer study this summer from June 16-17, it found that 47% of global shoppers are more interested in shopping online for the holidays this year compared to 2019.

In the middle of a pandemic, none of this is that surprising. The problem is, as everyone began to retreat into their homes, email quickly became the primary channel for reaching customers, so the competition for reaching the right audience with the right message in the inbox has never been fiercer.

Making an impact

To make sure their messages get through and they have a successful 2020 holiday season – without the big splash of Black Friday deals at brick and mortar stores – now is the time for brands to address email performance and deliverability issues.

Here’s what to look out for as marketers ramp up their outreach over the next couple months:

Small email issues can lead to big problems

The first signs of email performance problems can be innocuous. If delivery rates are lower than usual, open rates different from recent, similar sends, or engagement rates dip, it’s easy to write off these fluctuations.

Common explanations, especially these days, could be that customers are distracted by world events, or their inboxes are being flooded with emails from any business they’ve ever visited. While those theories might be true, small signals left unchecked almost always lead to bigger issues.

That’s why it’s better to know for certain why email marketing campaigns aren’t delivering like they were before.

Data fixes to improve your sender reputation

You don’t need to be a data expert to get to the root of the data issues impacting your email campaigns. The easiest places to start are unengaged users and bounced emails.

Typically, companies have a process that removes bounces and unsubscribes immediately, but it’s also important to regularly clean your data to cull inactive users. By doing so, you’ll see tangible improvements in your deliverability, but don’t stop there.

Mailbox providers (MBPs) evaluate sender reputations when filtering mail. Make sure you’re not on any blocklists or have lots of negative engagement signals, like spam complaints.

If you’re not being blocklisted, look to see if your messages are hitting a high number of spam traps. If they are, one option is to use a list validation service to help clean your lists and keep them free of suspicious addresses that could be harming your reputation and limiting the ability to reach the inbox.

Optimize your campaigns

Once you’ve addressed the issues blocking your messages from getting to customers, focus on optimizing each campaign. You can do this by:

  • Identifying the most and least engaged subscribers. For the most engaged, ask if they want to get more messages this holiday season and provide several options for staying connected. For example, in addition to a weekly newsletter, they might also be interested in flash sales alerts or non-promotional content aligning with their interests and your business. Remember, more email does not equal more sales. When it comes to less engaged subscribers, reach out to confirm they want to stay on your mailing list. If so, offer them a choice on the frequency and type of content they want to receive. These tactics, especially when done early, will smooth the path to the inbox.
  • Using data from your email and other marketing channels to see how subscribers are responding to messages. This includes offers, website content, email, and social campaigns. Based on the insight received, create personalized recommendations to drive engagement and conversions.
  • Pre-testing your emails. This is a proven strategy, yet it can be overlooked in the interest of a quick launch. But if the campaign isn’t effective, it’s not really a time saver, is it? Making time for pre-testing shows if your content is flagging spam filters, displays properly on various mobile devices, and whether there are any other indications of potential delivery issues. Once you’ve rectified whatever you find, always test the fixes before you hit send.

While online channels have been eclipsing brick and mortar for some time, 2020 has driven all businesses to be 100 percent digital.

As we go deeper into the holiday season, getting through the inbox and driving engagement will be challenging for retailers that have not taken the steps to address potential issues before they impact campaign performance.

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