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How to Use Email & SMS to Boost Holiday Sales in 2020

November 16, 2020
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The 2020 holiday season is quickly approaching, and due to external events like the COVID pandemic, the Presidential election, and politics around USPS and shipping, we are in store for a holiday season like no other! So what does this mean for businesses who rely on the holidays to meet their yearly sales goals? 

According to the experts, it will present both a challenge and an opportunity. Those brands who plan ahead and incorporate innovative digital marketing strategies that simply can’t be ignored will rise above the rest. And based on what we’re seeing, email marketing and SMS are going to reign supreme this holiday season as a cost-effective method to break through the noise and win the sale. 

By The Numbers: The Power of Email & SMS During the Holidays

The 2019 holiday season was a huge success across the board for retailers with an SMS and email marketing strategy in place. Adobe reported that Cyber Monday was the heaviest online spending holiday in history, jumping 19.7 percent to $9.4 billion, and Black Friday was a close second with a 19.6 percent jump to $7.4 billion. Email and SMS marketing played key roles in these increases in online sales. SMS earned retail brands about 21 percent more orders per campaign than email on Black Friday. Email gained most of its success over the week of Thanksgiving with welcome emails and cart recovery emails.

2020 is likely to present email and SMS marketers with challenges surrounding the changes in shopping patterns and disposable income among the general population during the holiday season. Many consumers will be avoiding public locations like shopping centers and malls where they probably would have felt comfortable going in all previous years. Rakuten reported about 73 percent of holiday shoppers will purchase primarily online this holiday season. COVID-19 has sped up the decline of brick-and-mortar stores exponentially. There are expectations of people spending significantly less money on gifts this year because of the high number of people experiencing a loss of income. 

A trend that is already clear in 2020 is that people are spending more time in front of their screens to stay connected, so they are more likely to see a text or email come through in real-time. Email and SMS marketers will need to be innovative and creative to stand out among the rest and drive results. NetImperative found that July, August, and September of 2020 have the highest rates of shopper interaction with customer reviews, photos, and Q&A as customers go online to research gifts. While people are generally looking to spend less this year, engagement is up, and the best holiday email and SMS campaigns will be successful. 

Developing a Record-Breaking Holiday Broadcast Email & SMS Strategy 

The first step in creating a successful holiday marketing campaign is to start planning early (think August and September). Why so far ahead? you may ask… well, much of the analysis, heavy lifting, and planning you do now will help save you countless headaches down the line when you’re in the trenches of the holiday shopping season. A few things you should be considering right now:


Do NOT wait until November and December to start holiday testing your emails and SMS messages. Sure, you’ll have a lot of data to play with as people are checking their emails and inboxes more frequently in search of deals, but during this prime shopping window, it’s important that you are presenting the strongest elements in your messages to ensure maximum success! That is why NOW is the time you want to be testing things like offers, creative subject lines, send time, landing page, etc. to ensure you have all of those helpful learnings going into the holiday shopping season when the pressure is on!

Data Analysis: 

When planning this year’s holiday campaign strategy, don’t forget to review your 2019 performance. This is a gold mine of helpful insights that can help you work smarter instead of harder while putting together this year’s marketing campaign. A few things we recommend paying special attention to:

  • Offers: Which offers worked best? And on what channels?
  • Timing: What days did you start campaigns or send your marketing messages? How effective was this schedule?
  • Content: What content performed best? Was it promotional? Gift Guides? Copy heavy? Image heavy?
  • Competition: What did your competition do last year that you can use to guide your strategy this year? Hint: Check out www.milled.com for these insights!


Once you’ve done your due diligence around data analysis, it’s time to start putting pen to paper and planning out your 2020 holiday campaigns. The biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to putting together your email and SMS calendar is how these initiatives fit into the larger marketing picture. That being said, this exercise should not be done in silos and instead should be a collaborative effort between the entire digital marketing team to ensure an integrated, cohesive strategy. 

Types of Emails & SMS Messages to Include In Your Calendar:

There are a few key messages you should have slated to send this holiday season.  These include:

  • Gift Guides: Email and SMS marketing is all about providing value to your customers, and creating a holiday gift guide to help your customers shop is one of the best ways to accomplish this!
  • Shipping Cutoffs: Not only do these types of messages create a nice sense of urgency and push the subscriber to purchase sooner rather than later, but having these emails in your toolbox can prevent a customer service nightmare down the road.
  • Black Friday & Cyber Monday Offers: Your most loyal customers will be anxiously awaiting messages from you on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, so make sure you don’t disappoint! After all, if you don’t show up in their inbox on these days, it’s likely that another retailer will steal the sale. 

Optimizing Your Automations During the Holidays

Plan Ahead: Make sure your automations are running smoothly and updated with fresh holiday-themed content and strategies that will help you capitalize on the season of buying.

Welcome Series

As consumers begin their holiday shopping and finding new brands to subscribe to, you’ll likely find yourself with new subscribers to market to. Welcome series typically have a higher open rate than other emails and are a significant revenue driver. To capitalize on this interest, give your welcome series a holiday refresh. Add in some fun and festive subject lines (EX: “tis the season of giving  – open to unwrap our gift to you!”) and update your content to show how your products can fill a need for customer’s holiday plans or curate your best-sellers into a “gift guide” format. Building a rewards system for loyal customers (“get $10 off when you spend $100”) and incorporating that into your Welcome series is a great way to entice customers to spend more money.  

Abandoned Cart & Browse Abandoned

As with the welcome series, include a few holiday-specific subject lines that capitalize on people’s need to buy gifts by a certain date. Also, update your abandoned cart and browse abandonment emails to include shipping cutoff dates as a way to create urgency for holiday shoppers to buy now. Use these emails as a place to advertise free shipping or promotional holiday shipping rates as these can be a major factor in consumer’s decisions to purchase your product vs a similar product through a competitor (*cough* Amazon *cough*). Another great tactic in these sequences is to create scarcity (“only 5 left in stock!”).


Winback sequences also present a great opportunity for you to remind gift-givers that they shopped with you last year. Adjust the audience of your win-back to target the previous year’s holiday shoppers. Then update your content to show customers what’s new or present your products in a gift guide format to show how your products can fill their holiday needs. Be sure to mention any holiday promotion you’re running (“free shipping over $100” or “free gift with each purchase over $150”) to entice them in spending more.

Other Things to Consider Ahead of the Holiday Season

Rewards Program

Loyalty programs are on the rise as is building trust with your customers. We all know that it’s much more cost-effective to retain a current customer than it is to get a new one, so it’s key to provide value to your audience that they can’t get anywhere else. And loyalty programs do just that. 

By focusing on maintaining your relationship with current and past customers, you can create deeper loyalty with your users (with multiple rewards and incentives) and provide extra personalized messaging. As we head into the holiday season, making sure your loyalty program is buttoned up to accentuate value to new customers is crucial in establishing a great brand introduction. This is also vital to ensure it’s satisfying the needs of your current customers. 

If you don’t have one? Would be a great time to try it out ahead of Q4 – here’s a few stats why:

52% of American consumers will join the loyalty program of a brand they make frequent purchases from. (Yotpo) By getting users to join your loyalty program, you’ll be able to send more targeted messaging ahead of the holidays. 

57% of consumers spend more on brands to which they are loyal. (Accenture) This is especially important ahead of the holiday season as brands will want to highlight their top revenue driving products

Adding a loyalty program to an e-commerce platform can increase average order quantity by 319%. (Incentive Solutions). More data, more money, win-win.

Discounting Strategies

In tandem with a rewards program, it’s important to be strategic with the type of discounts you’ll be offering among your email + SMS platforms. 

Gearing up for the holidays offers the perfect time to test strategies on these channels. Think about whether to offer a flash sale versus a week long promotion, email or SMS only exclusive offers, percentage versus $ based amount off discount, or even different discounts for different segments.

A few key things you’ll want to focus on trying are urgency, scarcity, and exclusive messaging. Make your customers feel special and test the offers that work best. 

Onsite displays 

According to Privy, brands utilizing multiple onsite displays see 7.5x more email sign ups! While displays to capture emails are, of course, one great way to use displays on-site, there’s many different use cases including maximizing ROAS, decreasing cart abandonment, and increasing AOV. 

A few examples include: 

  • Countdown timers→ maybe you have a limited time offer onsite, utilize an on-site countdown timer to highlight the urgency and push users to convert
  • Targeted email opt-ins→ Engage customers with personalized onsite display creative based on where the user is coming from and their geo-location. Set up A/B tests to gain creative insights and maximize ROI.
  • Free Shipping Banners→ You can now make your banners dynamic! Capitalize on “only $X before free shipping” to increase AOV. 
  • Abandoned cart savers→ set these pop-ups to display upon exit intent when a user is on the cart page to save a sale (and include a discount if you want) 
  • Cross-sell Opportunities→ lastly, you can also use displays to showcase complementary products based on what is in a user’s cart to increase AOV. 

And there you have it – everything you need to win the 2020 holiday season using email marketing and SMS! If you are interested in learning more about Power Digital’s email marketing offering or even just want a second set of eyes on your campaign strategy, get in touch with us by hitting the “Proposal” button at the top of your screen! 

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