5 Ways to Win the Holiday Inbox Competition

Thanksgiving week is finally here, which means the majority of online retailers have hit send on at least the first round of their holiday email campaigns. And even though email has proven to be a top performing channel, retailers must find a way for their messages to stand out in crowded inboxes in order to receive the best return from their campaigns.

After all, there is A LOT of competition. In fact, retailers increased the volume of messages by 19 percent last holiday season, averaging 210 promotional emails according to data from Listrak. Plus, merchants sent an average of 5.3 messages in the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday in 2012. In order to compete this week, it is important that you come prepared to fight. Check out five strategies that can help your emails be a TKO (total knockout):

1. Use Attractive Subject Lines

Subject lines have a huge impact on open rates all year round, but they are even more significant when the competition is at a boiling point. This week, brands will try to increase this valuable metric by using a combination of catchy phrases and discounts in their subject lines. Take Steve Madden's message as an example. The email demands attention with the words "Black Friday", the promotion of "25% off" and the immediacy of the word "NOW" in the subject line. While probably not the most innovative of subject lines, it does get its point across and is likely to be noticed by deal hunters.


In order to deliver the best subject lines to your subscribers, review last year's campaigns and re-use or improve on the best performers. If you are still unsure of your potential subject lines, you can test them at subjectline.com, which is a free subject line-rating tool offering insights based on deliverability and marketing performance data.

2. Get Personal

Subject lines should not only be eye-catching, but also relevant. For example, women's apparel retailer ModCloth delivered a message to my inbox yesterday with the subject line "Your wishlist is waiting!" This message was not only relevant because of the time of year, but also personalized based on my last shopping experience with the brand. Moreover, the retailer further entices me to update my wishlist by offering to notify me if an item on my list is about to go out of stock or goes on sale. Plus, the message makes it very easy to interact with, ending with a call-to-action (CTA) "View & Update Your Wishlist". The CTA directs consumers straight to the site's wishlist page.


3. Send at the Right Time 

It is always important to test sending times to discover when your campaigns perform the best. While it would seem there is no better time to leverage this data than during the holidays, keep in mind that Thanksgiving week in particular is a bit of an anomaly. This is because many shoppers will be scouring their inboxes at different times of the day - based on their holiday traditions or schedule - to plot their Black Friday shopping routes. It's probably best to send email promotions early on Thanksgiving regardless if your messages typically perform better when sent at a different time, like in the evening.

4. Offer Promotions too Good to Refuse

Throughout the entire holiday season consumers will be looking for discounts, but this bargain hunter mentality will be hitting its peak this weekend, which is why catchy subject lines and personalization strategies will not be enough to obtain conversions. In addition, make sure to highlight your promotions both in the subject line and within the body of the message. Keep in mind, however, that this doesn't simply mean offering consumers a percentage off of their purchase, but also highlighting other promotions like free gifts and special shipping rates. In fact, recent data from Retention Science reveals that free shipping offers are two times as effective at obtaining conversions when compared to percent-off discounts. That said, the best strategy is to use a two-step approach, in which subject lines alternate offers throughout the week and multiple promotions are prominently featured inside the message, as can be seen in the OshKosh B'gosh email below.

5. Be Optimized for Mobile

Email has consistently proven to be a huge driver of conversions for merchants, and its importance has been strengthened over the last few years thanks to mobile devices.

"Email enables you to reconnect with your audience when they're not on your website and that's extremely powerful," says Jerry Jao, CEO of Retention Science. "And the impact is further enhanced by the popularity of mobile devices."

Unfortunately, many merchants aren't using mobile to their advantage. In fact, a Campaigner study based on last year's holiday season reveals that 41 percent of consumers were left frustrated by the poor design and user experience of mobile emails. And with much of the Black Friday hoopla taking place at traditional brick-and-mortar shops, it is likely that consumers will be checking their inboxes for discounts and promotions while on the go. This means that even if your message does entice subscribers to open it, they will quickly close or delete emails that are too difficult to read on the small screen. This is why your campaigns should be designed either for mobile first or with responsive templates like those offered by Campaign Monitor and GetResponse.