Four supplemental marketing strategies for holiday ecommerce growth

stack of gifts for Christmas holidays

The most wonderful time of the year usually means heartburn for retailers trying to squeeze every dollar from the holidays.

But relief is possible using these four under-utilized strategies to support larger marketing initiatives.

The usual holiday approach involves steep discounts, massive ad spends and an over-reliance on email.

Price and promotion are always going to be the major contributors during such a valuable time when brands face make-or-breaks moments for the year in a matter of weeks.

That being said, there are also many smaller-scale, under-utilized strategies that can help to drive the holiday growth everyone seeks.

These are easy to implement, easy to scale across sites and countries, and involve little effort outside of some messaging execution and savvy marketing. The goal is not to overtake promotions, but to provide a complementary message to them.

Shipping deadlines

Messaging of shipping deadlines is rather straightforward. It’s essentially letting the customer know when he or she would need to place an order to receive the package prior to the holiday time-period.

For most brands, that messaging revolves around Christmas Eve, as packages won’t arrive Christmas Day.

Ideally, shipping marketing to receive an order by Christmas would start directly after Black Friday week at the beginning of December. It’s a smart transition to bring back product marketing after such steep discounts have gouged profit margins.

Stopwatch icon

As December progresses, shipping messaging gains in urgency and prominence, providing the impetus for customers to buy if they’d like to receive their order before the cutoff.

The benefit is that the brand immediately places purchasing in the mind of the consumer, even before they’ve seen a product. They know they need to buy soon, providing the urgency complement to product or promotion.

An added benefit is that it’s also a smart customer experience. Providing understanding upfront of what shipping will look like for the consumer not only creates urgency, but also manages expectations and lessens strain on customer service – which can also reduce cost per call.

Gift card redemption

Gift cards usually see a heavy push in the weeks leading up to holiday with large marketing efforts for e-gift cards after the shipping deadline has passed. Once the holidays have passed, very few retailers market redemptions.

The idea of marketing gift card redemptions may come across as counter-intuitive. The consumer has already paid for the tender upfront; why lose merchandise if we already have the revenue?

But if marketers dive into their data, they’ll find redemption marketing is a very effective tactic to drive sales once the major shopping period has trailed off. For most brands, the majority of customers redeeming gift cards actually up-sell on products, increasing their incremental spend, order value and units per transaction.

Gift card redemption marketing is an effective supplement to product marketing—consider email footers, homepage banners and inline marketing content on browse-based pages.

Upgraded shipping

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate for consumers; in this instance it’s flat-rate shipping upgrades to get their order by Christmas. Last-minute holiday shoppers are desperate to purchase, needing the product as soon as possible, but that causes many consumers to see ecommerce as an unfeasible option because of shipping timelines.

Providing a flat-rate shipping upgrade to next-day, or two-day shipping with promised delivery by December 24 places ecommerce platforms back into the consideration set for last-minute shoppers, increasing traffic and conversion rates with the right marketing strategy.

Woman hand accepting a delivery of boxes from deliveryman

While upgraded shipping can have major benefits to brands, there are two major roadblocks most retailers hit in the planning cycle.

First and most important is the WIP – work in process – in the distribution center. Assuming they’re close to capacity, teams will need to be conservative on order estimates to make sure the distribution center can handle the increased capacity and avoid a backlog.

The best approach is to head into holiday strategically with an understanding that the brand will provide free upgrades on shipping during the holiday period. A planned strategy is always better than a reactionary approach and managers in the distribution center will appreciate the increased notice so they can prep their teams and staffing.

The second barrier for many brands is that shipping upgrades can be invasive to the profit and loss for finance teams. Let’s be honest, brands that provide upgraded shipping are going to lose revenue on the operational expenditure.

That being said, consumers have high expectations for shipping. They’re accustomed to ecommerce platforms providing free shipping, or at least a threshold for free shipping on a regular basis.

Simply put, the incentive and expectation of free shipping, or in this case a flat-rate upgrade, increases orders and conversion enough to offset those costs and provide an incremental boost to sales.

If a brand doesn’t offer shipping incentives in retail, it’s not competitive in the market – especially during the holiday season. Those brands may consider analyzing abandon cart rates–they’re most likely well-above industry standards.

Companies that expect a profit today on shipping are working on an antiquated model that is hurting their customer experience and core KPIs.

Account creation and loyalty membership

Account and loyalty acquisition are straightforward strategies to increase engagement. The philosophy is simple, consumers that create an account are more engaged and they are retargetable based on their data. Therefore, during the holiday push, retailers are more likely to activate an account or loyalty cohort than non-members.

Even better, the strategy is financially neutral with no inherent overhead or costs.

Execution is also simple. Ecommerce headers and email footers can be highly effective when targeted to a likely segment and paired with great messaging and creative. There’s the option to add an incentive, as well. Promotional offers range, but usually are steep discounts on a single product to protect the overall product offering.

Woman shopping by mobile phone laying at home. Blue screen.

However, during the month leading up to holiday and Black Friday, incentives aren’t necessary. Many brands provide a first-to-know offering to members and account holders. They’ll be the first to know about Black Friday deals and possibly have early access to the event. It’s usually enough incentive to drive acquisition.

Craft a short-range plan for account holders and members. Focus on the acquisition flow including incentives, messaging and channel. Specifically indicate how each of those integrate with each other to drive sign-ups.

Remember, each person is your most valuable customer. Make sure they’re engaged and receiving messaging since they’ll be the foundation of Black Friday and holiday sales.

Here’s to holiday readiness

A well-planned approach to the holiday season doesn’t always mean throwing dollars at every channel and promotion possible. Strategic brands utilize their promotions in a well-timed, targeted approach with mature incentives and experiences.

They also provide peripheral strategies and incentives such as gift card redemption, the all-important shipping strategies and account member engagement to build on their holiday gains.

Cheers to a prosperous holiday season.

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