Crafting a Winning Retail Communications Strategy for the 2020 Holiday Season

Even though summer just started, Q4 will be here before we know it, so now is the time for retailers to prepare for the holiday season. As always, it’s important to reflect on last year’s lessons, but given the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, it’s crucial for marketers to stay flexible as they lay out their plans. Examining 2019 trends within the context of 2020, here are our top tips for designing an effective holiday strategy as we navigate the unchartered territory ahead.

This post originally appeared on the Movable Ink blog.

Data-driven personalization

The 2019 holiday season was the shortest since 2013, with only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Attempting to stimulate more pre-Thanksgiving purchases, marketers offered deeper discounts and earlier deals than usual. Unfortunately, consumer behavior didn’t change, which left an extremely tight window to get e-commerce orders delivered in time for Christmas. Since this year’s window is only two days longer, it’s likely we’ll find ourselves in similar territory.

Compounding the issue, the coronavirus has caused retailers to rely more on e-commerce. So how can brands effectively engage customers early on? The key to success here will be data-driven personalization to target customers with content that’s uniquely relevant to them. Whether it’s offers, product recommendations, or any other type of content, consumers will be more likely to engage when the message speaks to their current needs.

This email from Mr Porter is a great example of this approach. Here, the company showcased targeted product recommendations based on an individual’s abandon cart behavior, captured by Movable Ink. And since the email content updates at the moment of open, the recommendations are sure to be timely and accurate.

Cross-channel activation

In 2019, we saw e-commerce fuel the continued sales growth that’s been steadily rising over the past five years. As brick-and-mortar stores faced challenges, digital helped fill in the gap, accounting for nearly half of last year’s holiday spending growth. And though analysts were accounting for a slowing economy in 2020, some year-over-year growth was still expected during the holiday season, with a significant portion coming from e-commerce.

Of course, the pandemic has added a great deal of uncertainty to the equation, making digital channels even more instrumental to retailer’s strategies. To capture the share of wallet from e-commerce growth, it’ll be pivotal to invest in cross-channel orchestration to guide customers at each point of contact, whether they’re reading an email, browsing the website, or using an app.

REI’s added geolocation functionality to their email campaign to identify the closest store to a customer, pulling product information from that specific store’s page and featuring only in-stock items. Then, when customers clicked on the hero image, they were taken to a product landing page where the store locator banner was displayed. This approach ensured a unified customer experience that actively encouraged purchases.

Supply chain visibility

Free shipping has long been the sweetener driving digital shoppers to buy during the holiday season, but it reached new heights in 2019. During Cyber Week, 86.1% of transactions involved free shipping. As this becomes standard, shipping speed increasingly becomes a differentiator, with about two-thirds of consumers saying they’re more likely to purchase gifts when offered expedited shipping. Coupling this with the supply chain disruptions that COVID-19 has caused, fulfillment will be even more challenging than usual. But by creating visibility around inventory and shipping, it’s marketers can manage customers’ expectations and even boost sales in some cases.

For Black Friday, House of Fraser sent out an automated email with real-time inventory levels, made possible by Invisible Ink’s web crop tool — which pulls product images, names, and prices straight from the website — and an inventory API integration to show product availability. Not only did this guarantee customers would only see in-stock items, but it created a sense of urgency, resulting in a 94% increase in CTR and a 23% increase in revenue.

Value and savings visualization

As previously mentioned, experts were already expecting a slowing economy to depress retail sales growth. Now, with the economic uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, people are tightening their budgets and focusing on safety. All these factors mean that price sensitivity will play an even bigger role this fall, so retailers’ communications will need to emphasize value and savings.

Sam’s Club used data visualization to showcase the amount each member had saved to date in four areas: cash rewards, cash back, instant savings, and free shipping. At the top, they showed the total savings to drive home the total impact of the membership program. This approach was so successful, the company recreated it for push and in-app messaging.

Automated, modular builds

Led by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, 2019 saw Cyberweek take the lion’s share of holiday e-commerce sales. While messaging strategies should be in place well ahead of Thanksgiving, the most successful frameworks will be agile, allowing marketers to pivot if numbers aren’t met. Additionally, with furloughs and layoffs shrinking the workforce, companies will be relying on their marketing teams — many of whom have experienced furloughs and layoffs themselves — to weather the crisis. Given all of the moving parts in Q4, messaging powered by automated and modular builds will allow teams of all sizes to react quickly to fluid situations.

This email from Bluemercury used multiple tools, such as an animated GIF in the hero, a local map, and a countdown timer, to increase engagement during Black Friday. Since the email updates at the moment a customer opens it, it’s guaranteed to be timely and relevant, without requiring manual work from the marketing team. Automated builds like this one benefit creatives two-fold, saving precious time and increasing customer engagement.