For most, the holiday season is the time to unwind and celebrate. For online retailers, it presents an opportunity to conquer the market, skyrocket sales, and cultivate brand loyalty through streamlined marketing.
But successfully surviving an eCommerce holiday season isn’t easy. It requires serious planning, strategic campaigns, and an all-hands-on-deck approach to meet sales and revenue quotas.
Here at Inflow, we’ve ushered hundreds of eCommerce brands through holiday shopping seasons over the last 15 years. Along the way, we’ve identified what does (and doesn’t) work for a wide variety of industries and verticals — and guided our clients to record-breaking results year after year.
Today, we’ll give you a peek at the behind-the-scenes work that makes it all happen.
In this comprehensive guide, find our tips and tricks for effective eCommerce holiday planning, including our recommendations for making the most out of your marketing collateral and budget during this crucial time of year.
Use the resources below to optimize and improve your holiday marketing plans for 2023 — or, if you need help building an end-to-end, omnichannel marketing strategy for your business, contact our team for a personalized proposal today.
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Researching Shopper Trends
- Step 2: Understanding Your Audience
- Step 3: Looking at Historical Data
- Step 4: Preparing Your Marketing Team
- Step 5: Creating Your Marketing Strategy
- Step 6: Launching & Monitoring Your Campaigns
- Step 7: Reviewing Your Performance
Creating Your Holiday eCommerce Strategy: Digital Marketing Edition
In many ways, your eCommerce holiday marketing strategy should be similar to your approach throughout the rest of the year — just amped up to the max.
All that hard work you did cultivating shoppers and analyzing your performance data up until now? It should set you up for success through Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and beyond (as long as you use it correctly).
To create a strategy that maximizes your return this holiday shopping season, follow our proven process below.
Looking for the quick hits? Download our free Black Friday & Cyber Monday Digital Marketing Checklist now.
Step 1: Researching Shopper Trends
Before they even think about their first holiday marketing campaigns, eCommerce businesses need to understand the lay of the land — that is, which trends are impacting shopper behavior for the upcoming holiday season.
Despite ongoing inflation and economic crunch, shoppers are still expected to maintain the status quo when it comes to holiday spending in 2023. In fact, online spending is expected to increase more than overall spending as customers compare prices and search for deals among popular online retailers (much harder to do when visiting brick-and-mortar stores!).
In addition to price, shoppers continue to turn to online marketplaces for:
- The convenience of finding what they want from the comfort of their home
- Fast and free/low-cost shipping
- Ability to view customer reviews and feedback
Another key trend for 2023? Shoppers are buying earlier than ever. In fact, the majority of customers plan to begin browsing or purchasing for the holidays by the end of October (which means your brand needs to launch its campaigns way before Black Friday).
Combine all of this data with your own historical shopper behavior (more on this below), and you’ll have the foundation needed to create campaigns that truly resonate with your customers throughout the holidays.
For more holiday shopping data, check out:
Step 2: Understanding Your Audience
While industry-wide data is helpful, nothing can beat your brand’s unique shopper data. Knowing how your customer base responds to certain promos and ads, as well as their average order trends, will help you tailor your campaigns to your most valuable audiences.
Start by creating segmented lists of:
- Loyal brand evangelists (those who have purchased from your store 3+ times)
- Return customers
- First-time customers
Review this shopper data in detail to uncover any valuable behavior trends from 2023 and years past. (Bonus: You can also use these lists to create target audiences for certain ad channels, like Facebook and Instagram.)
Step 3: Looking at Historical Data
Whatever the 2023 holiday shopping season may have in store, you can’t rely on mere assumptions and go in blind. Instead, you need to take an informed, data-driven approach when marketing for the holidays — and that means reviewing your historical performance in depth.
We recommend going back several years for the most accurate and comprehensive analysis. Here at Inflow, we’ve been using 2019 as a baseline for many of our clients’ historical reports, due to the wonkiness of the COVID and post-pandemic eComm boom.
Your historical data will help inform your strategies and decisions for this year by revealing:
- How your customers could behave in the months to come
- Which popular seasonal keywords to target with PPC and SEO initiatives
- Which products to prioritize at different times of the year
- Which marketing channels (search, social, email, etc.) to go all-in on
- What selling tactics (urgency, fear, social proof, etc.) to use
- And more
You should also re-familiarize yourself with a few core metrics from the past that will reveal insights about customer behavior, winning strategies, and products:
- On-Site Search Terms: These are the terms customers search in your website’s native search feature. (You can get this data from your web analytics platform.) Identify how these searches change throughout the year to better plan holiday promotions.
- Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate: The percentage of checkouts that aren’t completed can help determine the reasons that user sessions result in cart abandonment.
- Customer Acquisition Cost: Divide the total marketing and sales cost by the total number of conversions you got in a given time period. Is this year’s budget using the same CAC? If not, revisit your holiday financial strategy.
Note: This is the first year that businesses will be relying on Google Analytics 4 data to track their performance. Because of the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4, your metrics won’t line up one-to-one.
We recommend training your team ASAP on GA4 for the most accurate picture of your data. In the meantime, download our Google Analytics Comparison Dashboard to review your historical UA and current GA4 data in the same place.
Don’t Forget About Your Competitors
In all your efforts to analyze your own data, don’t forget to pay attention to what your competitors have been up to, as well.
We recommend getting on their promotional email lists, following them on social media (with alerts on), and visiting their websites to see what holiday digital marketing strategies they’re employing now (and what they’ve done in the past). This may spark ideas for your team and/or reveal some overlooked opportunities for your brand.
Of course, don’t blatantly copy the tactics that work for them — but do take notes and see how you can come up with something even better.
Step 4: Preparing Your Marketing Team
Whether you have a small or large marketing team, and whether they’re outsourced, in-house, or both, you need to make sure they’re all on the same page.
Between SEO, social, PPC, email, and content marketing experts, there’s a lot that goes on during the holiday season. And, because every team has its own goals, plans, and KPIs, it’s easy to work in disconnected silos.
But, before you know it, your customers will start feeling that poor synergy in your marketing campaigns.
For that reason, it’s crucial to align all of your teams on your plans and the bigger picture. Make sure that their efforts support each other and the overarching marketing strategy. They shouldn’t compete with or contradict one another.
It’s best to keep all of your marketers in the loop when it comes to:
- Timelines for marketing initiatives
- Discounts to be offered throughout the year
- The creative angles and messaging for your holiday marketing campaigns
That way, all of your marketing collateral will match, resulting in a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints.
Here at Inflow, we hold regular cross-department meetings for our clients, during which our different service teams update each other on their initiatives, brainstorm ideas together, and make sure all brand marketing efforts are aligned.
If you don’t already do the same, we recommend setting up regular meetings ASAP, especially during the busy holiday shopping season.
You can also download our free Work Breakout Template to organize your holiday marketing activities by team.
Step 5: Creating Your Marketing Strategy
Before implementing an eCommerce marketing strategy for the holiday season, get your ducks in a row. You’ll have trouble executing anything without a thorough plan that lays out all of your marketing efforts and tracks your progress.
Your plan should include:
- A holiday marketing calendar, with realistic timelines for executing your initiatives
- The budget you plan to allocate across your teams, based on their goals
- A list of metrics to track the progress of your marketing efforts
- The frequency with which you’ll evaluate performance data during this season
When you create this plan ahead of time, it will be much easier to set attainable goals, make the most out of your budget, and stay on top of everything.
Below, we’ll dive into a few of these aspects to aid in your planning process.
Your Holiday Schedule
For years, customers have been starting their holiday shopping earlier and earlier in the season. As discussed above, we expect the majority to have begun browsing (if not purchasing) by early November — which means you need to be advertising your products and sales as early as possible.
There’s no reason to wait until November or December to initiate your holiday marketing campaigns. Instead, create a plan to target and capture customers with early-bird campaigns that run throughout September and October.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Work out the financials and determine the discounts you want to offer.
- Start promoting early-bird discounts across all channels, including email, social media, search engine ads, and your eCommerce store website.
- Offer giveaways and other incentives to loyal customers who help promote your early-bird discounts on social media.
- Evaluate the results, and optimize your offerings and creatives for the rest of the holiday season.
Keep in mind that the marketing creative and copy during this early launch should be different from standard eCommerce holiday marketing campaigns. We recommend brainstorming ideas and testing them out before launching anything official.
Because these early access promotions will officially kick off your Black Friday sales, don’t neglect to sketch out the rest of your promotional calendar at the same time. This will allow you to strategically tease upcoming sales on an already-established timeline.
Your Pricing Strategy
Key to your holiday promotional calendar are the discounts that you plan to offer to your customers.
Several factors — your product elasticity, your revenue goals, your shipping capabilities — will influence your Black Friday pricing strategy, but we highly recommend adding your customer data into the mix.
Ask your teams: What discounts have successfully converted first-time shoppers in the past? What offers keep your loyal customers coming back for more?
By identifying which offers are more likely to resonate with your customers, your ads will perform better and you’ll be more likely to hit your retail sales goals.
In addition to traditional percentage or dollar-cents off, you could also offer other promotions, like:
- Free products or gift cards
- Free shipping
- Free expedited shipping
- Buy-one, get-one coupons
For more tips on creating your Black Friday pricing strategy, you can read our complete guide here.
Your Advertising Platforms
You have a plethora of advertising channels to host your eCommerce holiday marketing campaigns. But a strategic launch across just a few of them is much better than a spray-and-pray approach across as many as possible.
Go back to your customer demographic data to see where they’re shopping and how they’re getting to your site. That will inform where you put your advertising money this year.
That said, social media advertising and paid search ads are often the best performers during the holiday shopping season. Customers are already primed to purchase, and these channels allow you to effectively target (and retarget) those shoppers more quickly than with efforts like SEO.
However, these channels do require a significant investment to deliver results. If you can’t put an appropriate amount of budget toward these efforts, you may be better off forgoing them.
One of the best channels for cash-strapped eCommerce brands? Email marketing.
The holiday season is the time when your email subscriber list gets to shine. By segmenting your audiences and sending targeted offers, you can increase your online sales with minimal effort. After all, there’s a reason why email consistently generates $36 for each $1 spent.
Always feature your most popular products, use attractive creative, and emphasize the urgency of sales in your email messaging.
For more tips, read our holiday email marketing guide now.
Your Ad Creative
Discount codes and special offers, while important, won’t boost sales during the holiday season on their own. But, when paired with visually compelling marketing collateral, they can certainly drive shoppers en masse to your online store.
Here are some practical tips to design visually appealing marketing collateral at scale and get results:
- If you haven’t already, solidify branding guidelines for your eCommerce business and share them with your design teams.
- Plan and design a variety of visually pleasing content — images, banners, and videos — for your social media holiday ads, email campaigns, app, and landing pages in advance. You can then use them throughout the holiday season.
- Prevent customer fatigue by consistently delivering fresh creative. The last thing you want is for your buyers to hide/report your ads or leave your email subscriber list.
- Experiment with other visual marketing options. For example, consider expanding into Instagram Reels Ads or TikTok videos.
Finally, create multiple versions of the same creative, A/B test them, and see what resonates best with your target audience.
Your eCommerce Website
As you launch your holiday marketing campaigns, don’t neglect your website usability and visitor experience.
The right website design can make or break a sale, and that’s something you simply can’t afford during the busiest shopping time of the year. Fortunately, conversion rate optimization is one of the best investments you can make to increase your eCommerce sales.
Even the smallest changes to your site can improve your conversion rate, user experience, and more.
Some places to start:
- Poor site speed
- Wishlist and abandonment programs
- Checkout flows
- Holiday gift-wrapping options
- And more
One easy way to improve your conversion rate this holiday shopping season? Offering financing options to your customers.
If you’re selling high-ticket items, your messaging and promotional efforts should make a case for their big price tags. More importantly, you should make it easier for potential customers to purchase those higher-end products with financing options. That way, they won’t have to pay hefty prices upfront out of their own pockets.
There are two main financing options to consider:
- Credit Line: Under this arrangement, you partner with a Buy Now, Pay Later company that provides consumer financing through lines of credit. The financing company pays you for the transactions upfront (suitable for businesses that don’t purchase products on credit).
- Self-Managed Installments: Instead of partnering with third-party companies, you can also do self-managed installments. This payment option is suitable for eCommerce businesses that have the resources to run a self-managed program and purchase products from suppliers on credit.
For more strategies to improve your site’s conversion rate for the holidays, check out our full list of CRO holiday tips — or download our Best in Class Research Report to find out what top retailers are doing with their site design (and how you can replicate their success for yourself).
Your Customer Service Plan
Marketing will help attract and convert new customers. But retaining existing ones by delivering them amazing shopper experiences falls on your customer service team.
For that very reason, your customer service team should be briefed on your marketing plans and strategies. What’s more, they should be involved in your larger discussions, as well.
Prepare them for any anticipated order/out-of-stock issues or sales timelines, so they’re better equipped to respond to the queries of customers.
You could even get your customer service staff directly involved in your marketing campaigns through Twitter takeovers, shooting FAQ videos about order/shipping policies, and more.
If your business is both online and off, ensure that your customers know where to find you, how to contact you, and what your hours are during the holiday shopping season.
Do this by updating your:
- “Contact Us” webpage
- Local Google My Business listings
- Social media brand pages
- And more
Step 6: Launching & Monitoring Your Campaigns
The process of launching and monitoring your holiday marketing campaigns will be very similar to the process for any short-term marketing campaign. Don’t fix what isn’t broken; follow your team’s established procedures for launching and monitoring, rather than throwing curveballs into a process that already works.
That said, because of the short period in which holiday campaigns run, you can’t just “set and forget” your ads. Keep a close eye on your performance throughout these few months, so that you can adjust budget, creative, and copy quickly to avoid missing out on crucial sales.
While you’re performing this continual maintenance, keep an eye out for these common challenges:
Oh, No: My Top Seller Went Out of Stock!
eCommerce marketing campaigns that perform extremely well often have one unfortunate consequence: Products either go out of stock or become extremely low in inventory.
While predicting how much of a product to stock before the holidays is always a bit of a guessing game, you should take some preemptive measures to prevent customers from turning to your competitors when they can’t find what they want on your site:
- Look at past data to anticipate which products are likely to go out of stock (and when). Adjust your promotional efforts accordingly. For example, create a sense of urgency (“Available only for a limited time!”) to promote products that usually sell out before the peak holiday sales season.
- Make a detailed SEO plan for out-of-stock products. Provide the option to pre-order, internally link to alternative product pages, and use out-of-stock labels in your online store.
- Notify your customers through email marketing and in-app notifications when a specific product they previously tried to purchase is back in stock.
Don’t forget to enable your customer service teams by keeping them in the loop about your plans. After all, they’re the ones who will deal with the questions and concerns of frustrated holiday shoppers.
The Curse of the Abandoned Cart
eCommerce marketers know that cart abandonment can easily become the bane of your existence. Year after year, more than one-third of shoppers abandon their online shopping carts — often due to frustrations with or distractions during the checkout process.
You can minimize your abandoned carts this season by:
- Optimizing your checkout flow for mobile devices
- Properly labeling your checkout fields
- Using a progress bar to show customers where they are in the process
- Implementing an abandoned cart email flow
The more thought you put into this strategy ahead of time, the more likely your customers will be to follow through the whole buying process — and the higher your holiday sales will be.
Step 7: Reviewing Your Performance
Most of our recommendations in this blog revolve around planning your holiday marketing strategy: evaluating your historical data, organizing your campaign approach, etc.
But equally important is your post-holiday campaign review — which requires just as much preemptive thought and planning.
For many eCommerce marketing teams, it’s often a rush to the end of the holiday shopping season. But, without proper foresight, evaluating your success in January will be near impossible, especially with the new Google Analytics 4 tracking all of your data.
This year, more than ever, we’re recommending that marketing teams plan for their post-holiday analysis ahead of time by:
- Identifying the KPIs by which they’ll measure brand success
- Confirming their GA4 setup is working as intended
- Configuring custom events for their holiday campaign tracking
- Looping in internal teams on what data will be needed when
Reviewing your holiday marketing performance is about more than just understanding whether you hit your revenue targets. All of the valuable audience data you gathered during this time of year will be invaluable as you move into 2024, where you can use it for:
- Building lookalike and similar audience lists to target and retarget high-converting shoppers
- Testing GA4’s Predictive Audiences capabilities on your Google Ads campaigns
- Creating strategic email lists and flows to enhance customer loyalty and increase purchases
- And much more
Remember: If you’re having trouble navigating or gleaning data from your Google Analytics 4 accounts, our team is always here to help.
Start Planning Your Holiday eCommerce Marketing Strategy Today
When it comes to your holiday marketing strategy, the earlier you begin, the better. Start testing and experimenting today to lock in your plan for the upcoming season and get a head start on your competitors.
That said, don’t be afraid to revise your strategy as your creatives, trends, and results change over the next few months. Be agile; the worst thing you can do is be inflexible with your approach.
If you need help creating successful campaigns, download our free Black Friday & Cyber Monday Digital Marketing Checklist, or read our complete eCommerce holiday marketing tips series:
- SEO Holiday Tips
- Social Media Holiday Marketing Tips
- Holiday Email Marketing Tips
- PPC Holiday Tips
- Holiday Conversion Rate Optimization Tips
- Pre-Holiday Code Freeze Best Practices
You can also request a free proposal from Inflow’s eCommerce digital marketing experts for a personalized strategy based on your brand’s needs and goals.
Good luck — and happy holiday selling!