How to use email marketing to improve your holiday CX: 4 key tips, content ideas, and essential emails

| By Kelly Vaughn

How to use email marketing to improve your holiday CX: 4 key tips, content ideas, and essential emails

The closer we get to Black Friday/Cyber Monday and the holidays, the busier our personal inboxes become. Over this period 68% of shoppers say they pay more attention to companies’ emails. We’re looking for the latest deals, important ordering information, and sometimes even inspiration for what to buy.

We’re going to look at how you can improve your strategy, content ideas that your customers actually want to see, and essential emails you should be sending. These combined will allow you to add more into your email strategy in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your subscribers, and instead adds to their customer experience in an engaging way. 

4 key tips to improve your email marketing during the holidays

#1 - Consider which audiences are visiting your store

Over the holidays, you’ll have a variety of different audiences visiting your store that may not align with your usual customer base. This will include people who discover your brand for the first time due to your Black Friday deals, as well as people buying gifts for the holidays. With all these different audience personas, you’ll need to tailor your email content to suit the kind of information they’ll actually be interested in.

You should consider…

  • Who these audiences are and why they’re shopping with your store
  • Who might they share your content with 
  • What content does this audience typically engage with
  • What would they find the most helpful to know throughout the ordering process
  • Which issues might they face

You want to be as helpful and useful as possible to every type of customer that visits your store over the holidays. Sending them irrelevant campaigns will make them less likely to open the emails that truly matter to them such as order updates or returns info.  

2 - Think about issues that may impact your business

It’s inevitable that there will be some last minute issues or changes which affect your store and customers. It may be supply chain issues causing delays with inventory, shipping cost increases, or stock outs. Without proper communication and planning, these issues have the potential to grow into major problems for your team and customers. 

Being prepared for these issues to arise is the first and most important step. Which issues could affect your supply chain or fulfillment? From there, prepare a plan for how to communicate them to your customers using email. Have some automated flow templates ready to go that you can simply add details to that will allow your team to get information out to customers as soon as a problem arises. For example, if there’s going to be a delay in orders dispatching from your warehouse then the flow can be tailored with emails conveying specific details of the delay, how long it will last, and where customers can go for further information or assistance.

Communicating issues as they arise along with solutions and options for customers saves them discovering the problem themselves and overwhelming your customer support team. 

3 - Use SMS to complement your email strategy

Most of your customers will have their smartphone on them at all times. It’s a convenient way for them to do many everyday tasks, and also a convenient method for you to convey information that they may not always check via email. While your email marketing is vital, research shows SMS open rates are 98% on average, versus around 20% for email. This is largely due to an SMS notification being much harder to ignore than an email. This engagement is something merchants can use to their advantage to support their email strategy. 

Use SMS marketing to focus on which messages your audiences will find useful during the holiday season:

  • Sale reminders - Let engaged customers know that Black Friday and other holiday flash sales are live and when they finish.
  • Exclusive offers - If you want to boost how your SMS is perceived, offer subscribers exclusive access to offers and deals. 75% say they’d be happy to receive offers via SMS.
  • Shipping updates - Give live updates on when orders are shipped, when they’re out for delivery and expected times.
  • Abandoned cart - Remind customers when they’ve got items sitting in their cart, especially over BFCM weekend if there’s an active deal in their cart.
  • Order cut-off dates - Remind subscribers when it gets close to your order cut-off date for the holidays.
  • Returns policy - When an order has arrived, let customers know your returns policy changes for the holidays such as extended returns periods.

With SMS you have a lot less space to work with, so make sure you tailor the messaging to the format and keep it short and to-the-point. By sending only information that customers will be interested in receiving via SMS, you’ll see better engagement rates and fewer unsubscribes.

4 - Use segmentation and personalization wherever possible

No one likes an inbox cluttered with irrelevant marketing emails. The more irrelevant campaigns you send, the more likely it will be for a customer to simply ignore or unsubscribe. Personalization is a huge part of a successful email marketing strategy, especially during the holidays. 72% of consumers say they only engage with personalized marketing, and 70% of millennials are frustrated with brands sending irrelevant emails. 

You can use your store and email subscriber data to create audience segments that will allow you to tailor both your campaigns and automated flows to ensure every subscriber receives the most relevant content. Some segmentation ideas include:

  • New vs Returning customer - You may want to send different messaging to these audience segments, i.e. your “thank you” email, or if you send brand information to new customers, and then brand updates to returning customers.

  • Pre-purchase vs post-purchase - People need different info depending on where they are in the purchasing process. Pre-purchase will need content to convince them such as reviews, product info, shipping rate info. Post-purchase won’t need the same, and instead will look for returns policies, customer support, and product care info.

  • One-off customers - Segment any customers who only bought over BFCM and the holidays in previous years, so you can send them content only about this year’s upcoming sale information to try and recapture their interest this time around.

  • Customer Loyalty - Recognize your loyal customers separately to your new customers with exclusive deals, early sale access, and tailored recommendations.

  • Average Order Value (AOV) - Target different content to customers who typically spend more versus those who maybe prefer low-cost, impulse buys.

  • Customer location - If you sell internationally, then your international customers need different information especially if some of your sale deals are exclusive to one region or if shipping cut off dates are earlier for international.

  • Campaign engagement - To ensure success with your campaigns, segment subscribers by how they engage with your emails. People with higher engagement perhaps get more targeted campaigns and different offers/discounts. You can then test different styles of content on those with lower engagement to try and figure out what kind of content you can send that will capture their attention.

Beyond these segments, you should also consider personalizing individual flows and campaigns based on individual store data. For example, tailoring product recommendations based on browse or previous purchase activity. 

4 content ideas that your customers actually want

1 - Gift Guides

We’ve all been there - you’ve got a gift to buy, and you just don’t know what would be best. It can be a really frustrating experience, and those brands which offer a helping hand always stand out. 57% of shoppers look for helpful recommendations when buying gifts, so there’s a prime opportunity for content. The way to deliver that help is with gift guides.

These guides are helpful for two key audiences - gift buyers, and gift recipients. It’s obvious why gift buyers find them useful; rather than try to trawl through your store not sure what to buy, it gives them ideas. These guides can cover different categories of gift, for example if you sell coffee beans then guides based on coffee preferences i.e. “best for latte lovers”, “best for espresso drinkers”, or “best for french press”. Make sure it’s easy for readers to interpret your gift guides by using easily understood language, and avoiding complicated or technical terminology.

Gift guides are also useful for gift recipients, in other words your usual customers whose families or friends need ideas. It can often take a little bit of the magic of receiving a gift if you just tell people what to buy for you, so sending gift guides instead means you don’t necessarily know what someone will purchase but they’ll at least have some ideas. 

2 - Personalized recommendations

We’ve already covered why personalization is important to your email strategy, and recommendations are a key way for you to deliver tailored content. These recommendations are useful for customers, as they can guide them towards products they’ll probably like based on their individual behavior and preferences. In fact, 50% of consumers are likely to return to a website that recommends products. By connecting your email platform with your Shopify store data, you can offer highly tailored suggestions for products that each customer will actually be interested in.

Create campaigns specifically for upcoming Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, showcasing recommendations for products that will be included in your sale offer. For your existing customers, these recommendations could be…

  • New products that match their preferences they may not have seen yet
  • Complementary products to ones they’ve previously purchased
  • An item they’ve previously purchased which could be replenished/replaced i.e. beauty products, updated tech accessories, food/drink products.
  • An item which they purchase frequently. This highlights to them that something they already buy on a regular basis is going to be on sale.

For new customers or those yet to make a purchase, you could recommend products based on browse abandonment and highlight those which they may be interested in that other customers with similar browsing habits purchased. You should also add recommendations into some of your key email flows, such as abandoned cart and welcome emails to grab your subscribers’ attention. 

It’s important to remember what your customers are interested in receiving relevant recommendations. If it’s the run up to Black Friday/Cyber Monday, they want to know what will be on offer. Recommending products that won’t be on offer will send mixed messages and lead to disappointment, and ultimately risk losing the customer altogether. 

3 - Reviews

Reviews have a powerful impact on the purchasing journey. So much so that 93% of consumers say online reviews influence their purchase decisions. Use the reviews and testimonials you have along with segmentation and personalization to target those customers who need that extra push to checkout. 

Add reviews and testimonials into your abandoned cart and browse abandonment automated flows, tailoring these based on individual data. In other words if the abandoned cart has a specific item, add an email into the flow that sends the customer reviews for that item. If you have a large catalog where this would become difficult to do for every product, then give reviews based on product categories. 

You can also add these into welcome emails, segmenting based on sign-up source. For example if the sign-up source is from a form for a discount on their first order, include reviews and testimonials in the welcome email for that segment to give them additional confidence in using that discount. Another segment to target would be one-off customers from previous sales. You can combine both recommendations and reviews to try to persuade them into making another purchase during this year’s sale based on their previous purchase behavior.

The newer the customer, the more convincing they need compared to repeat customers. By segmenting and targeting those yet to purchase or one-off customers, you can send them the social proof they need.

4 - Last-minute gift ideas

While many people start buying early, not everyone finishes so far in advance. Consumers plan to start their holiday shopping before the start of December - 24% before Thanksgiving, 27% after Thanksgiving, 10% in November. However as much as 40% of Christmas shopping occurs in the 10 days before the holiday itself. 

Especially as you get closer to different holiday deadlines, fulfillment becomes more difficult. Send last-minute ideas based on what will make it to the customer in time, including cut-off shipping dates and showing only products that are in stock and ready to head out the door same-day. However you don’t need to stop with your shipping cut-off dates, as there’s one key gift idea that has no deadline - gift cards.

The gift card market is booming and exceeding hundreds of billions of dollars every year, and searches for “gift card online” have grown 100% year over year. Gift cards are extremely convenient, especially if a customer has missed shipping cut-off dates and needs a great gift. Sending these gift card idea emails close to the holidays will be a great way to snap up some last-minute holiday sales, and give your customers a simple way to delight their gift recipients.

It’s also important to build in other festive dates into your last-minute suggestion calendar. It isn’t uncommon to see retailers forget to plan for other holidays such as Hanukkah, which of course happens ahead of Christmas. You won’t be able to know which customers are shopping for which holiday, but sending these reminders and ideas for each will be great for those customers who need them and demonstrate to those who don’t that you think about all your customers’ needs.

4 essential emails that will boost your holiday customer experience

1 - Enhanced Back-in-stock notifications

As part of your standard email marketing automation strategy, you may already have some back-in-stock flows set up for your Shopify store. These emails are extremely valuable to your customer experience, and in one study boasted a 65% open rate - the highest of any email type. 

If you already have this essential flow set up for your store, then you have the opportunity to enhance and improve it to really add to the customer experience

  • Expected back-in-stock dates - If customers are potentially looking for gifts, then they may be waiting to receive a back-in-stock notification. Sending an update email to those on the waiting list with the date you expect to receive it into your warehouse will let them plan accordingly.

  • Shipping deadlines and any fulfillment delays - An item being back in stock is great news to a customer, but not if it won’t arrive in time. Giving customers details about ordering deadlines will allow them to make a more informed decision, saving them disappointment.

  • Recommendations if the item won’t restock in time - If the product won’t be back in your inventory until after the holidays, then send an email with product recommendations and gift card suggestions as alternatives if the subscriber was looking for a gift.

Being proactive with back-in-stock emails and building on them ahead of the holidays will give customers additional support that they didn’t even know they needed and improve their experience. 

2 - Shipping Updates

During the holiday season, there is a significant pressure on order fulfillment. This can be a concern for customers, as they want to know where their order is and if it will arrive on time. While you may already have transactional and dispatch email automations set up, you can add further value to these by including more information and sending more frequent emails. 

  • Update emails before dispatch - If there’s a delay with an order leaving your warehouse, send an automated email that triggers when the order status hasn’t been updated after a few days. This email can assure the customer that their order will be leaving soon, and that you’ll send tracking information soon.
  • Tracking information via SMS as well as email - When an order leaves your warehouse, send the information via SMS so the customer gets the message as soon as possible with a link to where they can track their order.

  • Notifications when the order is out for delivery - These emails will help to keep the customer informed throughout the process.

You should also include links to your shipping FAQ pages and customer support contact details in shipping emails to let customers know where to go if they need additional information.

3 - Returns policy

Returns are a painful but necessary part of ecommerce for merchants. Especially during the holidays, there are many reasons why customers may want to return an order. If it was a gift, it might be the wrong size, the recipient may already have something similar, or it didn’t arrive in time. Whatever the reason, returns are a big part of the customer experience; 92% of customers say they’d buy again if the returns process is easy.

Part of making that process easier is communication. There are a few really easy ways you can do this with email:

  • Post-purchase flows - Add in an email post-purchase that details only your returns policy. Include details specifically about how to initiate a return if the order contains a gift.

  • Seasonal campaigns - Include a quick summary of your returns policy with a link to more details i.e. “Free 30 Day Returns”.

  • Abandoned Cart flow - Returns are important to customers, and knowing that you’ll make it easy for them if they’re not quite satisfied could be what convinces them to checkout.

You need to let customers know what your policy is, any changes for the holidays, and what the process is. Especially when it comes to changes to your policy, let them know if it’s extended, for how long, and if there are any limitations. For example is your seasonal returns policy only valid on purchases made during a specific timeframe? Are there any product exclusions? Think of the questions your customers may have about returning specific products within your catalog. 

4 - Customer support info

When a customer has a question about your store or products, they’re going to turn to your customer support. During the holiday season, your team will be busier than ever and this can slow down response times and in turn cause frustration for your customers. Especially as it gets closer to key holiday dates, the longer it takes your team to respond or resolve issues the more likely you’ll be to lose customers. Support is a big part of experience and retention, with 78% of consumers saying if a store’s customer service is excellent they’d do business with them again even after a mistake.

Your first step in delivering on customer service is to develop a really strong self-service option with searchable, easily navigable FAQ pages, automated responses, and smart chatbots. When your customers do need to get in touch, make sure it’s easy for them to do so and provide your team with pre-written scripts for dealing and escalating common queries. 

Now to incorporate email into that service strategy. Communicate your support options at key points throughout the customer journey:

  • Pre-purchase - In your browse and cart abandonment flows, include emails letting them know your various support options i.e. “Have any questions? Here’s some help”. Add links to customer support options into the regular flow emails also.

  • During fulfillment - When an order leaves your warehouse, set that to trigger an email flow that details customer support options in case they have a question about shipping and delivery.

  • Post-purchase - Once the order has arrived with the customer, send them an email checking in to see if they need any further assistance and where they can find extra information about the products they ordered.

By giving them all the information that they need at every step of the process, you’re making it really easy for them to find support the second they need it. Even if they don’t need assistance, seeing this proactive approach to customer service will give them a positive perception of your store experience.


Everything about the holidays is busy, both for your store and team as well as your customers. You have the opportunity now to make small but important improvements to your holiday email marketing strategy that will positively influence your customers’ perception of your brand and potentially boost conversions all without impacting your team’s day-to-day.

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