Christmas didn’t quite work out? Well maybe Valentine’s Day then.

Pay attention! This is important.

Valentine’s Day is on the 14th of February. This should not come as too much of a surprise as it’s always on the 14th of February. Yet, it sneaks up on us each and every year. We get past the fraught Christmas period and think we can relax. Then Valentine’s Day seemingly comes out of nowhere. I am not talking about the the blokes that get surprised by Valentine’s Day.  I’m talking about the ecommerce companies that seemingly get caught out by it as well.

Hitting the Mark

At the 2017 dotdigital Summit in March, we launched the Hitting the Mark Report (HTM). We reviewed 100 UK and US ecommerce brands. We thought we would go back and review how those brands handled the 2017 Black Friday period. So we wanted to see if anything had changed and if not, what advice we could give for the upcoming holiday season of Valentine’s Day. As well as Mothering Sunday, Easter, Father’s Day and Graduation Season for our friends in the US.

Surprising Finds

Sixty percent (60%) of the brands in the full HTM did not have abandoned cart programs. Surprisingly this number grew to 66% over the Black Friday period (the Monday before through to Cyber Monday). This increase is more likely down to brand concerns about stock and their ecommerce tech. Instead of a general move away from abandoned cart programs. While there’s nothing worse than a bad customer experience, not sending cart recovery emails is leaving money on the table. With 69% of carts being abandoned globally (Baymard Institute 2017), you don’t have to reclaim many to make money.

Another surprising thing in our Black Friday Hitting the Mark was that 44% of the brands did not push Black Friday offers via email. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom when you consider that email is still the most popular channel for consumers when maintaining a relationship with a brand and email consistently delivers the highest ROI. The DMA reports that marketers get a return of over £32 for every pound spent.

On the other hand, these brands may have had the right idea. Maybe they actually stood out because of their absence. Over the course of that week we received an average of 18 emails per day. These brands then teased us with promotional items and potential deals early on. They then closed out the week by adding urgency with countdown timers.

This data all points to one thing: marketers falling into the Black Friday trap of focusing on the sale. They are forgetting that this transaction is part of a long-term relationship. So, what should we be doing in the coming weeks and months to make sure we get these important holiday sales but also maintain and build relationships to get further sales throughout the year?

1. Don’t just sell, add value

You want to promote your products but often this is more achievable not by giving an offer but by using your marketing to enhance your customer service. One of the easiest ways to do this is by providing gift inspiration. Generally, people know they have to get a gift but will have absolutely no idea what to get. What they need is a little inspiration and reassurance. Of course, you can also add value to your customer service by reminding people about the last day to purchase to get things delivered on time, order confirmations and shipping notifications.

I have also recently heard about an email program for people who have procrastinated just a bit too long and missed the all-important date. It was an ecommerce company that would (for an extra fee) send an apology email or even include an apology letter in the package for “their delayed shipping.” They were essentially willing to take the hit for someone who had ordered too late.

2. Recognize that it may not be a special day for everybody (Even Valentine’s Day)

I was recently taking a train to an event and overheard a conversation where a woman was telling her friend about a recent breakup. It was clear that her emotions were still quite raw as she lamented about Valentine’s Day being right around the corner. This got me thinking that a lot of these upcoming holidays may not be relevant for a lot of reasons and our marketing messages may be more than just an annoyance, they could hurt too.

Of course, it would be impossible to know this. It is like bumping into an acquaintance and asking about their parents only to find that one had passed away. You had no way of knowing, but you feel bad anyway.  As part of your preference center let people take a break from your emails. You do not need to know why, and they probably would not say, but they will remember you for providing this little courtesy.

3. Reduce the cadence once they have bought

One of the trends we saw in the full Hitting the Mark report which ran over a period of six months was that even though we had filled in every field on every form, answered all of their questions, thoroughly browsed their websites, and went on to purchase something; many of the brands failed to recognize any of that behavior.

Their emails consisted of a new offer with each new message. Many even went so far as to send us an offer for a product we had already purchased. Most people only need one gift for each of these holidays, once you have bought that Valentine’s Day, Mothering Sunday or Father’s Day gift, how likely are you to need another one? One of the easiest ways to ‘recognize’ a recipient is to know whether they have purchased recently and change your mailing cadence accordingly.

4. Don’t add new customers to your business-as-usual comms right away

Similarly, we have found that many retailers refuse to recognize new customers and treat them differently. Your new customers have found your site, registered, browsed and purchased. How likely are they to need to purchase again right away? That however is too often ignored and new customers are immediately put into the full-on marketing comms program (which as we saw above is usually based around buy, Buy, BUY). Think about easing your new customers into your program by starting with your value-added content, increasing the offer cadence over time.

5. Start working on your abandoned cart program

Let’s face it. If you haven’t started yet, you are unlikely to have your abandoned cart program up and running by Valentine’s Day, so this is a longer-term recommendation. Start working on your abandon cart program as soon as possible. One dotdigital client was able to cover the entire cost of setting up their abandoned cart with the very first recovery email they sent out. In another example, a medium fashion retailer working with dotdigital successfully recovered over £50k per month with its abandoned cart program. The success stories are countless…

Gone are the days of the big Christmas Shopping Season, when just over two months’ trading determined if we had a good year or not. As marketers and retailers, we have been really good at creating the next big gift-giving occasion and these seem to get bigger, better and more frequent every year. The brands that really succeed however do not rely on this constant stream of ‘important’ days. Successful brands build strong, long-lasting customer relationships by using the data they have to deliver relevant emails, which are regarded by subscribers as useful, one-to-one comms rather than generic marketing.

To learn more about seasonal email marketing trends, download our Black Friday Hitting the Mark report below:

Valentine's Day