Email is typically the third highest source of online revenue, just behind direct site traffic and pay-per-click, accounting for at least 20% of your online revenue. With a well-executed holiday email strategy, this percentage could increase to 30% or more. However, with everything else retailers have on their plates this time of year, trying to capitalize on that opportunity can drive your stress levels to all-time highs, as well.

Perhaps the most successful stress-avoidance technique is one of the season’s retail truisms: You simply must plan for what happens when your inventory sells out. Every retailer has conceived and built a beautiful email to showcase specific products and prices, only to have one or more of the offered products sell out just before it is scheduled to deploy. We hear about it every year. This can force a brand to choose between cancelling a send altogether and risking sending the email and receiving customer complaints because the product(s) are unavailable. I see this happen most frequently when a series is designed to feature the same products throughout its run. The first email is deployed and so successful that the products sell out, leaving the planned follow up email (“Last day for this sale!”) to drive traffic to products that can’t be purchased.

But with a little planning up front, this common holiday speed bump can be handled efficiently, ensuring that your email is smoothly updated with new product and deployed in a timely manner, effectively turning a problem into an opportunity. Here’s how:

Adjust creative: To capitalize, start by designing an email template for the holidays that allows for individual products to be isolated in the creative from other products. This may mean deviating from your established creative concepts and “squaring up” the concept more, but with the increase in email volume during the holidays, efficiency is everything. Creating a more modular template empowers the person responsible for modifying the email prior to deployment to be able to simply switch out one image for another rather than having to update the entire creative and modify multiple images and links. This creative application can be seen in this example from our client Rockport.

Make copy changes easy: Another great strategy is to include any pricing or copy as HTML text, rather than making it image-based. This may take slightly longer to build and sound counter-intuitive, but taking this approach allows you greater flexibility to change a price to either move more merchandise or get more value for your more popular items at the last minute. The update can be made by simply editing text, rather than going back to a designer to update and splice new graphics. The bottom line is that you want that designer working on subsequent email promotions, not making revisions to previously approved concepts due to last minute changes. This combination of images and HTML text can be seen in this example from Walmart, with images not yet downloaded.

Less (graphics) = More (campaigns): Of course, there are less subtle options, as well. If incremental changes aren’t an option, consider designing back-up emails that do not feature any products – simple approaches with only and image and graphic copy. This allows your designer to simply add whatever copy is necessary for the promotion and save the concept as a single image. This flexible single-image email is the easiest email that can be built, meaning that your campaign can be created, tested, and deployed on short notice. This simple, yet elegant creative concept is demonstrated in this email from Kate Spade New York.

Create gift guides: Another go-to email during holiday is the gift guide. Gift guides are focused on more scenario-based shopping: For Him, For Her, For Kids, Gifts Under $100, Stocking Stuffers, and so on. You can have multiple variations of this throughout the season and present targeted, relevant content to all of your segments – a tactic that has historically resulted in increased click-through rates. A gift guide can even replace your traditional navigation featured in your email template, a change that can coincide with your overall holiday-themed template update, typically done near Thanksgiving. This holiday gift guide is excerpted from an email from DEG client Helzberg Diamonds and features popular shopping categories.

Here is another gift guide example from The Land of Nod, which focuses on personalities — an interesting take.

Show shipping deadlines…and plan for what comes after: Communicate your shipping deadlines early and often. These additional components of your email campaigns can be created now. The dates won’t change so go ahead and design and build these re-usable sections of the email while your schedule is less hectic. You will need a few variations to accommodate approaching deadlines for Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, etc. Be sure to display all shipping options available (personalized, standard, 2-day, overnight) but then drop the standard option once the cut-off passes, and so on.

Remember also that once those deadlines have expired, you’ll need something to fill the space that messaging once occupied. Design and build an e-gift card or in-store promotional pod to display after all shipping options have passed. This excerpt from a Crate and Barrel post-standard shipping deadline email last year promotes the next available shipping options.

Many retailers also feature their partnership with a non-profit or in-need organization in an additional email pod in the header or footer of their campaigns as well. This component can also be designed and built now, which is important since this creative may require additional approval processes as well.

Enjoy your own holidays: Together, these strategies can create significant efficiencies, allowing you to execute against your original holiday plan and swiftly accommodate the promotional changes and additional last minute campaigns. All of this will afford you the luxury to still enjoy a hearty Thanksgiving meal, and maybe even a few extra minutes to hunt for your own Black Friday deals.

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