This Holiday Season Will Be Retailers’ Most important One Yet


When I think of the holidays, I think of decorating our Christmas tree with my daughter and the image of ornaments solely hanging on the lower branches within her reach. Working with retailers, the holidays evoke annual traditions of their own. This year, we’ll likely see our most online holiday season yet. In fact, after retailers doubled down on e-commerce offerings this spring, e-commerce revenue is already up 75% YoY— currently yielding Black Friday sales volumes. 

At Listrak, I advise retailers on how to best streamline and enhance their cross-channel digital marketing strategies. Right now, retailers want guidance on marketing strategies for the fourth quarter. Let’s discuss a few key steps for holiday success: 

Be the early bird
This isn’t the time to procrastinate. Create a checklist to avoid stalling out during the holiday season. Hone in on campaign planning, subscriber list growth and optimization, as well as a technology review. For campaign planning, finalize your promotional calendar, identify key dates, draft an email strategy, and audit all triggered campaigns. Lastly, you’ll want to review your 2019 holiday performance to understand what worked and what didn’t— knowing that what worked last holiday season may not work as well this year and vice versa.

Onto your subscriber list: reengage with inactive or lapsing subscribers now, so that you have the largest possible list going into the fourth quarter. You’ll also need to understand your best acquisition sources, so that you can optimize and drive traffic to the acquisition sources that are driving the most value. Finally, review your marketing technology stack, and familiarize yourself with any new tech implementations. Extending your planning timeline also gives your team flexibility to react to any additional unprecedented industry shifts. Ultimately, you’ll maximize your circulation and engagement during the holiday season. 

Conduct marketing war games
There used to be certain predictability to the holidays. Sure, strategies evolved with business priorities and industry trends, but global crises weren’t launching economic downturns. Now, retailers are on high alert for anything that could throw a curveball into holiday planning. Stay vigilant by conceptualizing several different scenarios, and coming up with contingency plans to offset the impacts of each one.

Review your recent spring and summer marketing strategies, and distill those lessons learned into an actionable crisis plan. With possible store closures, be prepared to send geo-targeted emails and SMS to encourage traditional in-store shoppers to shop online instead, or communicate limited in-person shopping opportunities like curbside pickup options.

Plus, we’re expecting more online shoppers than ever before, so e-commerce sites are bound to experience crashes from increased traffic. In these moments, it’s important to stay empathetic and supportive. Make sure you have an apology email template ready, so that you don’t lose consumers to your competition. Remember, doing the upfront work of crisis planning now will help to save time if you do need to pivot strategies, and will optimize your holiday opportunities in the long run.

Cover all your communication bases
During quarantine, internet usage spiked 47%— meaning that consumers were spending more time on their laptops and smartphones. Ahead of the holidays, consumers want helpful information on promotions and anticipated changes to the shopping experience. You need to meet them where they are, across devices and channels, to ensure they get the message. This year, double down on SMS marketing to boost engagement and create a sense of urgency with shoppers. Last year, during the holidays, Listrak clients saw a 3.4X increase in revenue per text message sent, compared to solely email.

A strategic SMS program will help to unlock additional revenue for the holidays. Take footwear brand DTLR VILLA, for example: during the 2019 holiday season, they used SMS to connect with their millennial customers, and boosted revenue per message sent by more than 2.5X. As you get started, always be mindful of how often you’re connecting with consumers.

Perfecting the right cadence is nuanced. Your subscribers want to hear about your deals and relevant updates, but they don’t want spam. Monitor the engagement as you test out different frequencies, and refine your timing as needed. Consumers are inundated with holiday marketing messages. Differentiate yourself from your competitors with SMS— creating urgency, exclusivity, and loyalty among mobile-first shoppers.

While it’s been a demanding year for retailers, the true test has yet to come. The success of this holiday season will determine the retail winners and losers of the industry going into 2021. Ultimately, finalizing your marketing strategy now will increase your chances of success this holiday season.

-Karen DiClemente, senior strategy director at Listrak