Understanding New Email Subscribers Acquired During the Holidays

Posted by Henry Gutierrez 

For 2018, Forrester estimated that U.S. online shopping would reach $151 billion. The holiday season was expected to see a 1.7 percent increase in spending. The holiday season is the most important time of the year for most retailers, filled with a great opportunity to engage current customers and acquire new ones.

There’s a common misconception that these new subscribers should be treated like everyone else in your database. It’s vital for retailers to understand the environment and intentions of new customers around the holidays in order to maximize retention and return on investment throughout the year.

Use Lightboxes Wisely
According to Cordial, the most common form of acquisition from Total Retail’s Top 100 Omnichannel Retailers is the lightbox (also known as pop-up or overlay), with 46 percent implementation. Even if retailers don’t use this practice year-round, it’s common to see it implemented around the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s a great way to collect more subscribers—but there are some potential pitfalls you’ll want to avoid:

  • Promotional deals: Offering great promotional deals in exchange for an email address can backfire. It establishes the desire for the deal, not necessarily an interest in your brand’s marketing campaigns. This can lead to a high number of unengaged email addresses entering your database.
  • Forced acquisition: Give website visitors a clear option to exit out of the lightbox. Do not hide or remove the option to ignore the pop-up. My last article discusses how the quality of your list can be affected when you corner shoppers into giving up their email address.

Understand Seasonal Shopping Behaviors
New customers will naturally come flooding in during the holidays. As tempting as it is to begin filling their inboxes with promotional mail and inserting them into your marketing program, take caution of the following:

  • Seasonal spenders: Many customers make purchases from specific retailers only during certain seasons or on special dates. Flooding their inbox year-round will potentially drive them away and hurt future revenue.
  • Pre-checked boxes or auto opt-ins: Customers are flying through websites to make purchases for friends and family. Lengthy “Terms and Conditions” or pre-checked boxes are likely to be overlooked, so there’s a good chance customers won’t be expecting marketing messages post-purchase. Furthermore, hopefully, you’ve done away with pre-checked options due to GDPR.
  • Selective opens: During the holidays it’s especially important to note that new subscribers will be scanning their inboxes for subject lines that are most appealing, with specific regard to promotional deals and discounts. Optimizing your subject lines to be enticing and straightforward is key to standing out in a crowded inbox.

Recommendations
Here are a few ways to combat the challenges associated with holiday email acquisitions. These practices should be in place throughout the year, but they become much more important during the holidays:

  • Opt-in transparency: To help reduce churn, make the opt-in process transparent regardless of acquisition method. Use constant reinforcement of expectations during the sign-up process to ensure subscribers understand what they should expect from your brand.
  • Welcome message: There should absolutely be a welcome message to initiate the relationship. Set the stage by reminding them how they joined the email program, provide personalization with behavioral or purchase data, and highlight the benefits of the emails they’ll be receiving. Demonstrate your value.
  • Inactivity thresholds: The holidays are a unique time where engagement may be more temporary. The best practice a retailer can implement is to quickly sift out subscribers who will not engage with their brand, especially those that are likely to categorize your email as spam or use a secondary/inactive email account. For subscribers collected during the holidays, retailers should implement more aggressive timelines for inactive status. The first step is to reduce send frequency for potentially disengaged subscribers, but the suppression policy should also be tightened. Poor quality email addresses can add up and hurt your email program in several ways.
  • Preference center: A well-designed preference center is a perfect way to reduce churn. Offer options to your program around frequency and content. Ask subscribers when they would like to hear from you. Offer “Snooze” options where subscribers can choose not to hear from you until the next big holiday. Giving your subscribers options will help keep them around and keep them happy.

Of course it’s important to grow your database, but you also need to ensure that you understand the different mind-set of your segments—especially those who join during the holidays. Don’t miss the opportunity to keep those new customers around in 2019.

This post originally appeared in Total Retail.

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About Henry Gutierrez

Henry is an Email Strategist for Return Path's Professional Service team. His current role includes executing client-specific projects to maximize ROI and deliverability. Overall, he has worked in the email industry for almost 12 years, with experience both as an analyst for an ESP and on AOL's postmaster team.

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