With planning for the winter holidays in full swing, email marketers are under more pressure than ever to deliver demand – especially in the retail space. As the world continues to swirl around us, it’s hard to accurately project how email programs will perform in 2021. So let’s take a step back and take a look at the last two holiday seasons. 

Looking at 2020 vs. 2019 Christmas email campaigns in the UK, overall we saw an expected dip in the number of email campaigns as brands naturally pulled the brakes on campaign creation as the UK went into lockdown. However, alongside that was an increase in list sizes and volumes brands were sending to, without taking much of a hit to read rates. (Check out what’s happening for US brands here.)

Since restrictions are beginning to lift, we’ve already seen a ton of new email growth in 2021. Seasonal campaigns (Valentines Day through to Father’s Day) indicate that email is on the rise for most, and it’s still a leading channel for enterprise retailers.  

Combine all this good data + our industry expertise + some killer campaigns, you can rest assured that your holiday programs are on the right track for 2021.

Let’s dive into some of the numbers in a bit more detail…

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Overall, looking at UK retail campaigns during the winter holiday season (Nov. 1 – Dec. 31, 2020, vs. 2019): 

  • The number of campaigns decreased by 10%, however, the number of emails sent (list sizes) increased, and read rates increased. 
  • This data indicates that fewer marketing campaigns were created, but as read rates increased, UK retailers were potentially working smarter not harder with their targeting and personalisation. 
  • Across the industry we do know that as the pandemic hit, marketing professionals leaned into email as a channel, and this data supports that theory.

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Fast forward a bit, and let’s look at the campaigns of five major UK retailers leading up to Valentine’s Day in 2021 vs. 2020. Things started to ramp back up for some, but growth was inconsistent: 

  • John Lewis reduced the number of campaigns and sent few emails, however, this could have been through better personalisations and targeting, given their read rates increased 11%.
  • Next and Sainsburys, however, ramped up campaigns and their volume (Sainsbury’s, considerably so) but in both scenarios, we saw a dip in read rates of 6% and 30% respectively.
  • Amazon sent fewer campaigns, to considerably more volume, and their read rates went down but only slightly at 1.3%.

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Now let’s look at retail campaigns leading up to Easter in 2021 vs. 2020 for these same brands. 

  • We started to see some more consistent trends here in terms of ramping up campaign creation across the board as retailers started leaning back into email (apart from John Lewis where everything decreased).
  • The number of emails being deployed is a bit of a mixed bag for these brands, with Next ramping up their sends significantly, and Amazon a close second. 
  • Next also successfully increased their campaigns, as well as volume without taking a hit to engagement, which tells us they were optimising their email programmes here and seeing results.
  • ASOS on the other hand ramped up their campaigns in this period, while sending to fewer people, but also managed to see a good increase in read rates.

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Jumping to campaigns the weeks before Mother’s Day in 2021 vs. 2020: 

  • We see campaign creation continue to soar, and engagement also increasing for 3 of the brands (John Lewis, Next, ASOS).
  • With Amazon and Sainsburys, lowered read rates could be due to cold inboxes after 2020’s decreased email volumes.

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Lastly, during the weeks before Father’s Day in 2021 vs. 2020: 

  • We saw similar trends. Most email campaigns are on the rise. However, read rates continue to decrease as subscriber lists grow.
  • Amazon interestingly scaled back campaigns and volumes, and their read rates reduced.

Divider3 Important Takeaways for Retailers As You Optimize Your 2021 Winter Campaigns

Warm Up Your Email Lists

Warm Up Your Lists

Increasing holiday volumes will almost certainly require mailing to subscribers who have been email-inactive for 90 days or more. This needs to be done practically (and soon!) in order to avoid spam issues and inbox risks during holiday prime time later this year. Inactive segments should be embedded within larger sends to activate new audiences – or warm up cold ones. To optimize deliverability, avoid making those inactive audiences more than around 10% of any given deployment. Check out these 9 Holiday Deliverability Tips for more expert advice!

Make Your Content Relevant

Relevant Content Matters More Than Ever

Especially given these deliverability concerns, it’s critical for brands to strategically target and segment your audiences by curating messages and offers based on what’s known about those subscribers – like status, location, preferences, and browse/purchase behavior. And don’t forget to factor this personalized content into your subject lines.

Start Planning Now

Start Early for Happier Customers

Given the persistent shipping and supply chain issues being encountered during the pandemic, it’s important this year for retailers to be talking to customers about holiday buying/giving earlier than you might normally begin. If holiday-related messaging typically ramps up in November for your brand, consider at least starting those campaigns in mid-October or earlier.  

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All data was provided by SparkPost’s Competitive Tracker, the only platform available for delivering comprehensive competitive email intelligence. Analyze your email execution and performance against your industry and top competitors across a variety of metrics and elements, like inbox performance, read rates, send-times, contact frequencies, degrees of segmentation, subject lines, and creative. Get a demo to discover your use case.