November 8th, 2011 | 4 MIN READ

Holiday Email: A 12 Point List to Check Twice Before You Hit Send

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

For many online retailers, the holiday email season is already underway. But it's not to late to check if your holiday emails are naughty or nice. Before you hit send, make sure you're maximizing your opportunity by answering the following questions:

1. Do all your holiday emails have a clear call to action?

"Seasons Greetings" may give customers the warm fuzzies, but unless there's some action for your recipient to take, you send your email in vain. Inboxes are flooded with promotional and personal email this time of year, always offer something of value.

Contextual links and image links are fine, but they should be designed in a way that they clearly direct readers to the desired action to take. In doubt? Run your creative through Five Second Test and see if test users understand what to click.

Even if your email is non-transactional (rather, informational), there should be a big, juicy, clickable element that takes the customer to your website.

2. Are calls to action prioritized?

Every link is a potential call to action, including social sharing buttons. But they shouldn't steal the spotlight. Make sure the CTAs (calls to action) that take subscribers to your site are featured more prominently.

3. Does every featured product photo contain context?

Many retail emails merchandise product with images, without a clue of what lies behind them. What product categories lay behind these photos? Are they selling chairs or blankets? Cutting boards or kitchenware?

Images need to look clickable and visually describe the landing pages they point to.

Giggle's headline describes the overall theme (holiday travel), and the products are romanced with a bit of persuasive, descriptive text.

4. Do gift finder emails target gift recipient “personas”?

For her, for him, for kids 7-9, for your boss, for the girl who has everything - focus your gift suggestions around recipients to help solve your shopper's problem - what to get {fill in the blank}.

This isn't a die-hard must-have, but it adds value to your merchandising, further giving context to your suggestions.

5. Do you have a value proposition or free shipping offer?

Value propositions are key to persuasion. You're competing against a lot of other retailers (in both search engines and inboxes), so reminding why shopping with you is the best choice is as important as showcasing products and offers - if not more.

If you have a good UVP (unique value proposition), milk that thing for all it's worth. Don't let your customer forget it. Other value props like free shipping, overnight shipping options, generous return policies and guarantees are also important. Use whatever you've got. And get creative. Chocomize boasts of its booster the Today Show.

6. Do you have a link to your holiday shipping cutoff tool?

Some retailers send a dedicated email that explains shipping updates (no merchandising). I recommend at least some offer or featured product (remember always have a clickable CTA) if you're going to send such an email. But these emails are unnecessary if you simply include a banner that spells out your shipping options and cutoff dates.

An advanced move is to dynamically update the banner as cutoff draws nearer. The number of days remaining or available options can update as cutoff days expire.

7. Are you leveraging social proof?

Ratings! Reviews! Likes! Sales data! People want to know what's hot, and Uncommon Goods is an uncommonly creative example of merchandising with social proof.

8. Have you considered “shop for yourself” messaging?

It's better to give than to receive, but we still shop for ourselves during the holidays. Encourage both types of purchase intent during your campaign. Sometimes you can sneak them into one email.

9. Do you have a last-minute gift plan?

It's common practice to push online gift certificates after the shipping cutoff date. They come with instant delivery and free shipping (naturally). Not to mention, gift card holders typically spend more or less than face value, you can't lose.

10. Have you tested on mobile devices?

Ready or not, a good chunk of your emails are read on mobile devices. Many get smartphones primarily for the perk of reading emails on the go. Keep up. Design for and test email rendering on major mobile devices.

11. Have you cleaned your list?

Your list should be scrubbed regularly to remove hard bounces and inactive subscribers who have not responded to win-back/reactivation campaigns. Your list hygiene factors in your sender reputation and your delivery rate, so make sure you're squeaky.

Also make sure you honor unsubscribes. Opt-outs may increase over the holidays as your email frequency increases or the content of your email changes. A preference center for unsubscribers can help save those who simply want to opt-out of your holiday campaigns or reduce frequency.

12. Have you planned a “get what you really wanted” or “New Year’s Resolution” campaign?

*Example emails are sourced from 2 great, free resources on retail email design if you're looking for inspiration: Aweber's Email Marketing Christmas Lookbook and Responsys' Email Design Look Book. Check 'em out!

Looking for help with ecommerce site optimization? Contact the Elastic Path consulting team at to learn how our conversion optimization services can improve your business results.

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