Ghosts of Marketing Past: Ecommerce Inspiration to Get You in the Holiday Spirit

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Especially for direct-to-consumer and ecommerce businesses. Holiday shoppers are expected to spend nearly $150 billion dollars online this year. That’s up about 18% over last year.

How much of that holiday cheer will shoppers spread in your online store?

Well, there are over one million ecommerce stores asking the same question. So if you want a slice of that gift-buying pie, it’s time to start planning your holiday marketing strategy.

To inspire your strategy session, I’ve pulled together a lookbook of effective holiday emails, social media ads, and landing pages from online retailers. These ghosts of holiday marketing past reveal a solid list of ideas you can use to crush this season’s sales.

Here’s a quick list of those ideas for easy reference. You might want to check it twice.

Use shipping deadlines to create a sense of urgency.
Send teaser emails to hint at upcoming discounts and promotions.
Send a non-promotional holiday card.
Create gift guides with product bundles to increase add-on sales.
Proudly share how you give back to charity.
Encourage larger order values with progressive discounts.
Promote gift cards at the end of the season to attract last-minute shoppers.
Consider offering a free gift instead of a discount.
Create a shareable holiday hashtag.
Use a contest to source user-generated content.
Create a virtual personal shopper campaign on Twitter.

Make your emails jolly and bright (and timely and relevant)

You’ve spent all year growing and cultivating an engaged subscriber list. You’ve earned their attention. Now’s the time to capture their interest.

(Oh, you haven’t built an engaged subscriber list? That’s okay! Here’s how to get started.)

But what to send?

Here’s how five successful ecommerce brands are converting loyal email subscribers to holiday buyers.

1. Lucky Brand: Shipping with a sense of urgency

A sense of urgency and the fear of missing out (FOMO) are powerful motivators to take action.

This email from Lucky Brand creates that sense of urgency and uses a real deadline to do it. From the subject line to every bit of body copy, there’s no question where the motivation in this email comes from. You want to get your package by Christmas Eve? Well, this is your last shot!

This tactic is really easy to duplicate. In fact, you can schedule an automated email for each shipping deadline: the last day for free shipping, the last day for overnight shipping, and so on.

2. Moosejaw: Give subscribers exclusive discounts

Moosejaw email

When you invite someone to join your email list, you’re inviting them to be part of your tribe. Sending them a discount code is an effective way to remind them why they joined. It’s a great way to say, “You’re part of our club, and there’s value in that.”

Outdoor goods retailer Moosejaw is amazing at this type of brand building. Not only have they offered a valuable coupon code in this email, but they also do it with their signature brand of humor that their subscribers know and love.

3. LOWA Boots: Holiday card

Lowa email

Increasingly, people want brands to go beyond transactions and build relationships with them.

LOWA Boots not only sent a holiday card to their subscribers, but they personalized it with the signatures of their employees. It’s a low-cost, high-impact way to show your best customers that you’re interested in moving beyond just the transactional relationship.

4. Barebones: Use gift guides to maximize sales

Barebones email

Finding the perfect gift is often a challenge for shoppers. And increasing add-on sales is often a challenge for online store owners.

The gift guides from Barebones tackle both challenges at once. By curating and bundling products specifically for a particular person or experience, the outdoor brand has made it easy for shoppers to find the perfect gift. Meanwhile, this helps Barebones increase their add-on sales and average order value over the holidays.

5. Leesa: Show your impact

Leesa email

Shoppers have shown that they want to be associated with brands that give back. That desire has helped make Giving Tuesday the largest giving trend in the world.

Mattress maker Leesa is a brand on a mission to comfort and support to our most vulnerable communities. Their 2018 Giving Tuesday email shows exactly how they’re doing it.

How does your company give back? Don’t be bashful. Share how a purchase can help others. It’s a great story to go along with the gift.

Deck your landing pages for lots of sales

Your landing pages are the doors to your online store. It should have a friendly greeter, an attractive and on-brand design, and a clear message. And this will mean something different during the holidays than it does the rest of the year.

Here’s how five popular ecommerce and DTC brands used their homepages and other landing pages during the holiday season last year.

1. Osprey: All-in on gift guides

Osprey email

Osprey sells packs that help cyclists, backpackers, snow skiers, travelers, and hikers enjoy their adventures. For holiday shoppers who might not be as familiar with these activities, finding the right product for a loved one can be daunting.

Osprey removed that friction by including a series of holiday gift guides right on their homepage.

Remember that holiday shoppers may be different than your core audience. If you sell technical or performance products, perusing your site could be confusing for gift-givers. Think of your homepage and advertising landing pages as guides for the less-educated buyer.

2. Bonobos: The progressive discount

Bonobos landing page

Last year, men’s clothing brand Bonobos offered a progressive discount that increased as you bought more. They featured this sale front and center on their website.

If your margins allow for it, this can be an effective strategy to increase your average order value.

I also love the clean and unfussy design. There is nothing to distract you from what matters: the discount.

3. Campman: Stay true to your community

Campman landing page

Campman.com has some pretty big competitors in the world of outdoor gear retailers. But that hasn’t stopped them from being successful by curating niche products other stores don’t sell and building a brand that’s authentic to those communities.

In 2018, their holiday landing page stayed true to those communities. Not everyone understands that “dirt bag” can be a term of respect and endearment — but Campman’s audience sure does.

While their gift guide was helpful to gift-givers, the branding and messaging were all about the user.

4. TRNK: Keep it simple

TRNK landing page

The brilliance of TRNK’s holiday landing page is what’s not there. The large whitespace makes their simple Black Friday discount copy an easy focal point.

No matter whether your brand is silly or sophisticated, nothing should get in the way of your most important message — especially during holiday crunch time.

5. Allbirds: Branding > discounts

Allbirds landing page

Do you notice what’s not on this landing page? A discount. Even in a competitive space like casual footwear, Allbirds bets on their value proposition as “the most comfortable shoes in the world” to avoid margin-crushing discounts.

And I love the way they worked that value proposition into fun, holiday-themed copy. It’s punny, on-brand, and quickly catches visitors’ attention.

Add some seasonal joy to your social media ads

There’s plenty of buying intent during the holidays. This can lead some ecommerce businesses to go all-in on search ads.

But people don’t stop spending time on social media over the holidays. In fact, social media has become an important platform for shoppers to get gift inspiration. Plus, it’s where many people go to catch up with loved ones and manage holiday party invitations.

Meaning, your audience is on social media during the holidays. And you should be too.

I wanted to find out how the best ecommerce and DTC businesses are using social media ads during the winter holidays, so I reviewed nearly 100 articles on the topic and curated my five favorite examples.

1. Warby Parker: Free gifts

Source: Wishpond

Warby Parker social media ad

There are two great things about this Facebook ad from DTC powerhouse Warby Parker. First, gift cards can solve last-minute shopping anxiety. An ad featuring your gift card, especially one promoted toward the end of the buying season, can be extremely helpful to any procrastinators in your audience.

Second, the offer of a free gift with purchase is a nice alternative to a discount. The shopper can either gift the extra item, or they can keep it as a gift to themselves.

2. REI: Holiday hashtags

Source: Hubspot

REI mentioned on an National Park Foundation Facebook post

It’s apparently impossible to publish an article about holiday advertising without mentioning REI. Some version of the Opt Outside campaign was included in almost every piece I reviewed.

But there’s a great reason for it. Closing their stores on Black Friday, the most highly publicized shopping day of the year, has garnered the outdoor retailer an incredible amount of brand trust and earned media.

The campaign’s hashtag, #OptOutside, has gone viral year after year, and it’s even been shared by organizations like the National Park Foundation. (But keep in mind that you should never create a hashtag just for the heck of it. Make sure it has a purpose that will get your audience posting.)

3. Barnes and Noble: Personal shopper on Twitter

Source: Tintup

Barnes and Noble Tweet

I worked in retail for several years, and I loved being in the store during the holidays. It was such a great feeling when someone came in and said: “My daughter (son, partner, mail carrier) loves to hike (run, fish, crochet). What should I get them?” The joy they expressed when we found the perfect gift made the long days worthwhile.

This Twitter campaign from Barnes & Noble effectively recreated that personal shopper experience online. Shoppers could tweet #BNGiftTip and get personalized gift recommendations for their loved ones. Talk about personalizing the buying experience!

4. L.L. Bean: Shameless puppy plugs

Source: Jose Angelo Studios

LL Bean Puppy ad

Sure, cute animals are the ad world’s cheapest trick for getting attention. But absolutely no one is complaining.

L.L. Bean capitalizes on the prodigious power of the pooch picture every year with their 12 Days of Puppies campaign. There are no mentions of discounts, last-minute shopping, or missing shipping deadlines. It’s a much-needed break for harried holiday shoppers.

They’ve also turned it into a contest, asking people to tag pictures of their dogs to be included in the campaign. Speaking of contests…

5. Lush Cosmetics: Holiday contest

Source: Shortstack

Lush social media contest ad

The brilliance of this contest from Lush Cosmetics is that it works on so many levels.

First, it was an interesting way to get people sharing Lush’s brand via Instagram.

Second, it’s a promotion for their bath bombs, a great stocking stuffer gift.

Third, the prize is a visit to the Lush factory — inviting more opportunities for shareable content later on.

And fourth, it’s a creative way to fold the Christmas season into their brand.

The holidays are both an amazing and stressful time for ecommerce and DTC retailers. When it comes to holiday marketing, we could all use a little inspiration.

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