Don’t Take Apple’s Xmas Gift for Granted: 5 Tips to Cut Holiday Complaints

With last week’s release of the iPhone 6 and a preview of the Apple Watch, there’s no doubt these products will be at the top of many holiday wish lists this year, next year and beyond. Interestingly, this will have a direct impact on marketers’ abilities to reach the inbox.

As more people stay connected on the go with mobile devices, there’s been shift in inbox placement during the critical end of year period for retailers. It used to be as inevitable as the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve – with the increased volume of messaging hitting mailboxes worldwide during the holiday shopping season, complaints would rise – especially for aggressive mailers. It led to the decline of inbox placement rates as sender reputations tanked and email was routed to spam folders or blocked all together. The New Year typically meant dealing with the damage caused by risky mailing strategies.

Last year, we saw something different. According to Return Path’s latest Inbox Placement Benchmark Report, average global inbox placement rates actually held more or less steady during the holiday months at 85 percent, and stayed there during January (dipping only slightly to 84 percent in February). If this seems like a reason to bring back the holiday partying decadence of 1999, don’t take your jingle bells out just yet.

Last November marked the first time more than 50 percent of messages were read on mobile devices, and the largest percentage of mobile opens came from iPhones – 55 percent according to a recent study. Apple’s email client doesn’t allow users to mark messages as spam or register a complaint. With the majority of email opens coming from mobile devices (and the bulk of those coming from Apple devices), this drop in complaints helps explain why inbox placement rates wouldn’t experience the decline previously seen during the holiday months.

Two other contributing factors are the increased volume of messaging that takes place during the holiday season—and every year sets a new record—diluting the impact of complaints, and what we call the “cheer effect.” Subscribers are just more inclined to be in a shopping mood and on the hunt for holiday bargains during this time of year, and therefore less likely to complain.

While this may seem like good news for email marketers heading into the 2014 holiday season, it’s certainly not a license to throw best practices out the window and adopt a naughty versus nice approach to your email program strategy. Successful email marketing optimization means playing the long game and focusing on driving engagement across seasons while maximizing lifetime value to prevent depreciation of your most important asset – your subscriber base.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for mitigating complaints and protecting your engagement metrics even after the holiday cheer subsides:

  1. Be flexible. Offer subscribers options, like the opportunity to opt-out of increased holiday messaging or promotions that may be less relevant for them. This could include receiving a daily or weekly digest that summarizes your promotions and prevents an increased volume of messages in their inbox. Encourage subscribers to use your preference center to indicate what they’re most interested in receiving, and adjust your program accordingly. At the very least, don’t send at the same volume to everyone on your list, and set expectations about increased holiday messaging.
  2. Focus on the benefits of your email program and why your holiday campaigns are useful, relevant, and helpful during this hectic time of year. This will help your program stand out from the increased competition for subscriber attention and differentiate your brand, products, and services.
  3. Implement triggered messaging to reach subscribers with highly relevant and targeted messages at key stages of the buying cycle. This includes messaging for abandoned shopping carts, abandoned browsing sessions on your website, online wish list activity, and product review requests.
  4. Be mindful of inactives. Create a re-engagement plan for messaging to various inactive segments (ideally right now, prior to the holiday season) and customize your seasonal sending practices accordingly. Incorporate data that includes the subscriber’s level of engagement within the inbox, as well as email activity, multi-channel engagement and purchase data. Test a series of win-back campaigns (rather than one message) and use subscriber and purchase data to create content and track and attribute re-engagement across channels.
  5. Make unsubscribing easier than complaining. Ensure that your opt-out links work and place them prominently within creative templates. Implement list-unsubscribe headers and follow compliance practices to ensure a simple, one-step process. Monitor unsubscribes and ensure your opt-out rates are higher than your complaint rates. Sign up for feedback loops and remove complainers from your list immediately.

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