Written by Sam Yadegar on Sep 15, 2021

Much like last year, the 2021 holiday season is predicted to be especially lucrative for e-commerce brands.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Predictions for the 2021 holiday season
  • How to make your holiday ads stand out
  • Ways to optimize your website for peak performance
  • Why audience targeting will be especially key

Believe it or not, late summer is the prime time for brands to start making marketing plans for the upcoming holiday season. 

And this season, like 2020’s, promises to be a whole different ball game than years or decades past.

Last year’s holidays highlighted just how much the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a massive shift of retailers moving online, e-commerce companies had to work around more competition than ever before.

Thankfully, the rising demand for remote shopping created new opportunities across many niches. Here are a few eMarketer stats from the 2020 holidays:

  • Total retail spending increased by 6.5% to $1.064 trillion.
  • E-commerce sales increased by 32.5% while brick-and-mortar sales increased by just 2.2%.
  • Cyber Monday 2020 was the biggest online shopping day in history — sales rose by 15.6%.
  • Black Friday sales went up by 22%, while Thanksgiving sales increased by 21.4%.

For 2021, predictions include:

  • E-commerce sales are expected to rise by 11.3% to $206.88 billion.
  • E-commerce sales on Cyber Monday and Black Friday may surpass $10 billion.

While holiday e-commerce sales are likely to be on the rise this year, one lesson learned from 2020 is that retailers have to account for unexpected changes. 

Here’s how brands can do just that.

holiday email from clothing and accessories brand ASOS

A holiday email from clothing and accessories brand ASOS. (Image via Printful)

1. Create a personalized shopping experience

Page journey tracking (or what Google calls flow visualization) can identify a customer’s cursor at every stage of the shopping process through checkout. 

Not only can this help you identify strengths and weaknesses on your site, but you can use these details to reveal different information and products to different customers based on their browsing history and content interaction. 

Add a call to action (CTA), reduce page length, or insert an exit-intent popup to help engage the customer more effectively. 

2. Leverage peak promotions

If it seems like every other company is blowing up ad space and social feeds with holiday catchphrases and Santa Claus memes before the holidays, that’s probably because they are. 

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the busiest days of the year for most online retailers, with the month of December not far behind. 

Google Trends suggests people start their holiday shopping in September and are in full purchasing mode by mid-October. This means it’s wise to form a strategy early so it can be ready to roll before the big buying push, not afterward. 

To make promotions as effective as possible, figure out when peak purchasing times are and design campaigns to be released ahead of time.

Estée Lauder offers live chat and video options on their site.

Cosmetics brand Estée Lauder offers live chat and video options on their site.

3. Prioritize customer service

As the number of shoppers and purchases increase, so do the questions. You don’t want to run the risk of an unhappy customer — or a negative online review

Especially since we know that research shows it’s cheaper (and easier) to retain existing customers than attract new ones. That’s why your e-commerce customer service is especially important around the holidays.

Here are just a few FAQs to be prepared for:

  • How many days does it take to ship a product out?
  • Are there any additional promos or deals going on?
  • Will it be here by the holidays?
  • How can I find or track my purchase?

Live chat and automated chatbot options can often help answer common questions or link customers to a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) page. You can also consider outsourcing after-hours phone calls to a virtual assistant service provider.

Speaking of FAQs, make sure this page is updated with all the necessary information. You don’t want broken links or any info that’s outdated, since this will just frustrate your customer. 

4. Create holiday e-commerce email campaigns

Email is one of the most effective marketing methods you can leverage when it comes to holiday e-commerce strategies. 

Cyber Monday drives billions of dollars in sales each year. Holiday email marketing lets you meet your customers and potential buyers where they already are. But to stand out in an overflowing inbox, you’ve got to get creative. 

When crafting your emails, we recommend you:

  • Keep the message short and include eye-catching, themed visuals
  • Create a “holiday countdown” email that tells recipients how much time they have left to place an order for overnight delivery, free shipping, etc.
  • Always include a clear CTA that leads back to your site
  • Add a limited-time offer (LTO) — customers are more likely to take action when they know the deal won’t be around for long
  • Segment your email lists so you can send the most relevant products to each group
  • Optimize for mobile, as the percentage of people purchasing straight from their phone continues to rise

Is your company participating in any philanthropic initiatives during the holidays? Whether it’s donating to a nonprofit organization or volunteering, highlight this in your email. Consumers tend to favor brands that give back over those that don’t. 

Pro tip: Plan to launch your holiday campaign before Black Friday. Data shows that Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday are actually the fastest-growing days of cyber week for holiday e-commerce sales.

5. Focus on video ads

Video ads on sites like YouTube and platforms like Instagram’s IGTV can produce better results than a text advertisement in some instances.

The current generation of shoppers mostly prefers video ads, and this type of ad tends to be a better way to engage consumers. Live-action features like Instagram Live also make it easy for e-commerce brands to get traction through promotional videos.

In 2020, many social media platforms launched or reconfigured new ad formats. Consider exploring something like Instagram Reels Ads or even TikTok ads for your holiday e-commerce marketing campaign.

6. Use ad extensions and sitelinks

Because pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns encourage targeted traffic, they’re on the top of most e-commerce brands’ wish lists. When your company ad comes up, give customers the option to click on sales products, special holiday gifts, bonus offers, and similar promotions. 

Using ad extensions and sitelinks gives you the chance to add more context to the ads you publish. When a brand is searched for on Google, sitelinks can appear below the ad’s main URL. 

Similarly, Google Ads can include ad extensions that provide more info about whatever your ad is about through copy.

These sitelinks and extensions reduce the amount of work shoppers have to do, which can encourage them to click the link. You can also use review ad extensions to mention price reductions, special holiday shipping information, and more.

Outdoor clothing and gear company REI eco-friendly

Outdoor clothing and gear company REI has stated they’ll certify their headquarters, distribution centers and at least 10 REI stores as TRUE Zero Waste facilities by 2021’s end.

7. Target the eco-consumer

Customers value sustainability more and more — and it can affect a purchase decision. 

Get creative by highlighting any eco-conscious efforts you have at your company (hopefully you have a few). It may be the tipping point that gets someone to choose your product over a competitor’s. 

Consider, and follow through with, some of these ways to comfort shoppers concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases:

  • Reduced packing material
  • Reusable boxes
  • Recycled (or recyclable) packing materials
  • Eco-friendly package transportation
  • Packing a multiple-item order in as few packages as possible

Need more help managing your digital marketing this holiday season and beyond? Let’s talk. 

8. Create a holiday gift guide (or related content)

Who doesn’t love a gift guide? Adding a fun branded gift guide into your email newsletter can be a highly effective way to grab the attention of shoppers and help boost holiday e-commerce sales.

It’s a safe bet that subscribers are already familiar with your brand, so these guides connect with consumers through convenience as well. 

It saves shoppers from having to scroll through page after page or list after list of older or less relevant products and showcases the new merchandise or services alongside (ideally) special promos and ways to save.

If you only have one or a few products or a gift guide just doesn’t mesh with your brand, you can also consider creating holiday-specific content. This could be a gated guide or e-book that provides value to the consumer and incorporates your product.

Clothing brand Madewell allows you to shop via their Instagram posts.

Clothing brand Madewell allows you to shop via their Instagram posts.

9. Leverage social — and mobile

Holiday ordering through social networking platforms continues to grow, according to insights from Salesforce. Not only that, but they found mobile ordering and traffic shares skyrocket during Christmas and Cyber weeks as compared to the rest of the holiday season.

It’s yet another reason why it’s crucial for your site to offer an equally pleasant and easy experience on mobile, tablet, and desktop. Another great way to capture those who mainly search and scroll on their phones is by creating timely organic and paid social media marketing content. 

Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have made it easy to purchase items directly from you, right from the app. 

10. Focus on review sections

When 91% of 18-34 year olds say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, you know they’re incredibly valuable. Online shoppers tend to pass over products with no reviews or too many negative ones. 

You can beef up your credibility by adding review sections, making them more prominent on your product pages, or asking previous satisfied customers to provide reviews via automated emails.

User-generated content (UGC) is also becoming the driving force behind successful e-commerce marketing campaigns. Coupled with stellar online reviews, UGC can make a great case for your brand during the holiday season.

11. Pay attention to millennials

Nearly half of U.S. millennials say they plan to do more online shopping in the future, even after the pandemic is over, according to Adweek. And that doesn’t just mean big-name brands and stores. 

They also report that more than half of millennials plan to make most or nearly all of their holiday shopping purchases through small local businesses. 

Depending on your products, it could be worth it to come up with creative ways you can target millennials specifically for the holidays. 

Which items seem to resonate most with them? Can you experiment with organic and paid social in new ways to attract this audience? You may be surprised at the positive results you get. 

12. Ensure your site is speedy

Oh, what fun it is to shop on a site with an average load time of under two seconds! (…Right?) Experts note that most people will abandon a site if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds

There are ways to minimize your site’s loading speed, but working with a developer or your existing dev team is your best bet. They can help speed up your website through things like:

13. Explore influencer marketing

If you haven’t done it yet, the 2021 holiday season is a great time to start exploring partnerships with influencers in your industry. If this is your first influencer rodeo, you can look into micro- and nano-influencers first. 

According to Forbes, micro-influencers (those with follower counts in the lower thousands) have a 60% increased engagement rate and a 20% higher conversion rate than their counterparts with more followers.

Micro-influencers are often more affordable, making it easier to market your products to your target audience without breaking the bank. As a bonus, the engagement rate for influencers tends to rise during the holiday season.

The takeaway

The holidays should be a time of cheer — not a time to run yourself and your team ragged trying to keep up. 

Having a solid holiday e-commerce strategy in place that maps out how you plan to handle this busy season can help you and your team push through together — and come out profitable on the other side. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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