Holiday Watch: Driving email signups before Black Friday

As the holiday season revs up, retailers are spreading the holiday cheer across more customer touchpoints than ever – from mobile devices to shopping affiliates, social sites and beyond. But in all the flurry, it’s important not to overlook the workhorse of online holiday marketing — email.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, fully 92% of U.S. online adults use email, and 61% use it daily. Daily usage is 41% higher than for social media sites, which less than half of consumers check daily (43%).

And consumers who sign up for information from retailers are willing to receive updates frequently — with more than one in five saying they’d like updates twice a week or more and 39% saying they’d like weekly emails, according to data from the MarketLive 2011 Consumer Shopping Survey.

Chart on email frequency from the 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey

With the prospect of delivering frequent offers to holiday shoppers’ inboxes in mind, merchants should use this early holiday shopping period to encourage consumers to subscribe to email updates. A few effective tactics:

Promote a significant benefit for subscribers. MarketLive client Gaiam has placed a prominent banner on its home page promoting free shipping for new subscribers on any purchase above a $75 threshold through Dec. 31, in tandem with a welcome offer of 15% off the next purchase. Existing subscribers received notification of the offer as well, with the text positioning the benefit as an exclusive “thank you gift” for being a loyal subscriber.

Free shipping offer for new email signups from Gaiam

Gaiam email promoting free shipping

Promise early notice of peak shopping-day deals. With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Free Shipping Day all still to come, merchants can promise email subscribers early access to deals, alerts about special in-store promotions and more. Target has given its email signup link a prominent spot in the global header and decorated it for the holidays, promising shoppers an exclusive sneak peek at Black Friday deals.

Email signup link from Target

In a fun twist, shoppers who sign up can add their name and avatar to the “virtual line” gathering outside a virtual store for Black Friday, and add a personal note about what they’re wishing for.

Holiday feature from Target

Tie email to “flash sale”-style discounts on individual items. Emulating “flash sale” sites that offer deep discounts on a single item, many merchants now offer a weekly sale product or web-only featured deal. Now is the time to highlight this opportunity prominently, with text and graphics that remind shoppers they can receive a significant discount on gift items. Hunting and fishing outfitter Bass Pro Shops givess its “Catch of the Week” a a large amount of home page real estate — even after it’s sold out. Shoppers are encouraged to sign up for email alerts to ensure they don’t miss out on the next offer.

Weekly deal example with email signup offer from Bass Pro Shops

Adhere to year-round established best practices. Now is not the time to skimp on clear and comprehensive signup disclosures. On the signup page, clearly state what kinds of deals and information they’ll receive, and feature prominently  the privacy reassurance shoppers seek to ensure they won’t receive a deluge of spam. L.L. Bean covers all the bases on its signup page, offering a preview peek at typical emails subscribers receive, as well as a privacy statement at the bottom of the form and the opportunity for subscribers to self-segment so they receive the most relevant messaging.

Email signup example from L.L. Bean

What are you doing to promote email subscriptions this holiday season? Are you seeing a jump in new signups?

Top takeaways from the MarketLive 2011 Consumer Shopping Survey

We hope you caught yesterday’s presentation of the results of the 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey, which showcased dozens of actionable holiday tactics and examples along with the survey results. If you didn’t catch the Webinar, visit to access a replay and download a whitepaper detailing key tactics from the study.

Meantime, though, we wanted to share three key concepts to consider when fine-tuning holiday offers:

1. Shoppers do recognize value beyond low prices …

In the opening slides of the Webinar, we learned that merchants hope to hold the line on discounting this year by setting price breaks early and keeping them relatively uniform — in the 20 to 30 percent off range — throughout the season. Happily, the results of the consumer survey suggest this goal may be attainable: shoppers aren’t categorically against paying full price for items, and they recognize that the value of a brand goes beyond the discounts it offers.

According to survey data, nearly one in three shoppers will pay full price for an item that is “perfect for someone on my list”, while 30% will pay full price for a unique or hard-to-find item someone on their list has requested.

Chart showing results from the 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey

One of the best ways to connect shoppers with those “perfect” products — and maximize the potential for selling items without margin-destroying discounts — is via a gift guide or gifting center. But MarketLive’s research revealed that many merchants are slow off the blocks this holiday season, with just one in four Web sites promoting the holidays as of Oct. 21 — compared with 2010, when a majority of merchants had already kicked off their holiday campaigns. If you haven’t already, launch those gift guides pronto. Be sure to cater to an array of shopping styles, as Title Nine does here with a section devoted to gifts by price point, a link to the latest seasonal items and gift cards – which 42% of consumers seek when shopping for gifts.

Holiday gift guide example from Title Nine

Additionally, capitalize on the willingness to pay for just-right gifts by showcasing unique and limited-stock items, and by playing up customer favorites that are proven pleasers with categories such as “top sellers” and “top rated”. An Orvis email campaign from 2010 highlighted “top-rated gifts” and promised they would deliver on “quality and style.”
Holiday example from Orvis

Another strong component of value: customer service. Fourteen percent of shoppers said they’d pay full price for an item that came coupled with an “excellent customer experience”, while 73% of shoppers named free returns as a top promotion — a preference that stresses the importance of holiday shopping that is not only economical, but hassle-free from start to finish. To emphasize the value of great customer service, display product guarantees and return policies prominently, along with customer service contact information in the form of an 800 number and, if you offer it, click-to-call and click-to-chat options. And consider going the extra mile by promoting customer service as its own discrete offering, as J. Crew does with its Personal Shopper service, which promotes convenience and “hassle-free shopping”.

Holiday example from J. Crew

2. … but they still want that free shipping discount

Although shoppers may be willing to pay full price for products, they still perceive shipping costs to be prohibitive. When asked why they don’t buy more online, fully 45% of shoppers named high shipping costs as the top impediment — dwarfing other reasons by a large margin.

Chart showing results from the 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey

As a result, free shipping continues to be the top promotion influencing purchases, with 83% saying free shipping with no threshold is key, and 60% saying free shipping with a threshold spurs action.

But this reluctance to pay for delivery doesn’t mean you have to offer free shipping at all costs. Instead, craft free shipping offers with thresholds that appeal to your core audience — and consider offering free shipping on all orders for extremely limited periods, as the Solutions Catalog does with its “Deal du Jour” offer, which promises free shipping for four mid-day hours only.

Holiday example from Solutions Catalog

During the Q & A session, a Webinar attendee asked what alternatives to provide if she categorically could not offer free shipping as a promotion. In this challenging situation, panelists recommended several alternatives:

  • Consider making an exception for loyal shoppers and top spenders. Giving them a free shipping offer no one else receives strengthens their connection to the brand. Alternatively, offer them a gift card good for future purchases when they buy holiday gifts.
  • Consider flat-rate shipping. Making the shipping expense predictable and easy to understand is a widely-used alternative to free shipping, that can be tied to a threshold or offered unconditionally.
  • Consider offering customers free shipping upgrades with a threshold as the holidays near. This method not only gives shoppers a price break, but eases concerns about whether gifts will arrive in time as well.


3. Prime your mobile presence for heavy research.

While mobile commerce has been on the upswing, survey data suggests that most consumers will actually complete their transactions in other channels. Just 11% of survey respondents said they planned to purchase gifts on their cellphones during the upcoming holiday season.

But researching gifts is another matter. Overall 61% of shoppers said they planned to research gifts online or on their phones before buying them on- or offline. Furthermore, the survey found that among smartphone users, nearly 40% will use their mobile devices to look up sale offers and specials before heading to the store, with price comparisons and searches for information about bricks-and-mortar locations also popular.
Chart showing results from the 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey
Predicted in-store activity was nearly as heavy, with more than one in five saying they would check Amazon for price comparison while in the aisles, and 22% of shoppers saying they would use their smartphones to download product coupons while on-site.

To assist shoppers with research and point them efficiently to in-store deals, design holiday gift guide specifically for mobile viewing, and spruce up your store locator — it should display not just store hours and maps for locations, but also specific in-store sales and promotions, as well as special holiday events. And don’t forget to use SMS messaging to deliver deals that entice shoppers into stores; according to survey data, fully 34% of mobile phone users have shared their number with at least one retailer to receive deals. Fashion retailer Armani’s “Text Love Get Love” campaign offered an instant incentive for shoppers to share their information, with a $20 discount coupon for their next purchase.

Mobile campaign example from Armani Exchange

If you attended the holiday survey Webinar, what were the key takeaways for you? What tactics are you planning to emphasize value?

Holiday Survey Preview: Alternatives to Discounts in a Challenging Year

Holiday sales growth chart from National Retail FoundationAdding to earlier tepid forecasts for the upcoming 2011 holiday season, the National Retail Federation earlier this month predicted that holiday spending would increase 2.8% in November and December. That’s a drop from last year’s holiday sales growth of 5.6%, but still slightly above the 10-year average of 2.6%, according to the federation.

For merchants, the temptation is strong to discount steeply to overcome shoppers’ cautious spending instincts. But this tactic can cut into margins, making it especially hard for small- to -medium-sized merchants to compete against discount-oriented behemoths such as Target, Walmart, and Amazon.

Still, the Wall Street Journal reports that 48% of retailers are more optimistic about this year’s holiday sales than last year’s — partly because some are considering strategies other than nonstop price cuts to attract shoppers.

To learn which strategies promise the greatest payoff for the holiday season, register for Wednesday’s MarketLive Webinar presentation, which will review the results of MarketLive’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Shopping  Survey.

An initial peek at the survey validates merchant optimism for the season. More than half of online shoppers, 56%, say they plan to spend no more than they did last year — an increase of 7 percentage points compared with last year. But the percentage of shoppers who say they plan to spend somewhat or significantly more this year has held rock steady compared to last year, at 7%, while the percentage of shoppers who plan to cut spending has dropped to 37%, compared with last year’s 44%. The data suggests the trend is moving in the right direction — toward steady growth — rather than regressing back to the radically slashed budgets of 2008 and 2009.

 Chart showing MarketLive 2011 Consumer Shopping Survey results

Additionally, the survey reveals that although consumers will spend cautiously, discounts aren’t the only way to win sales. While “saving money” remains the top reason consumers shop online, other motivations are almost as powerful — including saving time, finding unique items and skipping the madhouse crush at the mall.

 Chart showing results from the 2011 MarketLive Consumer Shopping Survey

Wednesday’s Webinar will translate these incentives into actionable tactics for creating holiday offers that spur sales — without breaking the bank. The survey will additional address key questions such as:

  • How early do we need to start pushing promotions?
  • What motivates customers to pay full price during the holiday season?
  • How important will mobile be for my business this holiday season?
  • Can I up my email frequency to multiple times a week without alienating customers?
  • Do I need to pay attention to social networks like Facebook when it comes to holiday shopping?
  • What can I do to best compete with Amazon?

The session promises to be a powerhouse of information, with MarketLive founder Ken Burke and Lauren Freeman of The e-tailing Group presenting. So mark your calendars for Wednesday, October 26, at 10 a.m. Pacific time, register now, and bring your questions and comments. We look forward to the discussion!