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9 Holiday Marketing Tips from Ecommerce Experts

Ecommerce merchants and marketers share their best holiday marketing tips — that AREN’T just “dump all your money into ads.”

For an ecommerce business, the rewards of a successful holiday season are huge. But so is the competition for shoppers’ attention, clicks, and purchases. 

Adam Bastock, a consultant who helps small businesses grow online, explains a common challenge his clients run into. “I see a huge uptick in cost per click (CPC) and a loss of impression share over the holiday period as everyone scrambles to get their slice of the action,” he says. “It can be hard, as it really squeezes product margins and makes some keywords and campaigns unprofitable!”

What’s a small business to do?

This is where owned marketing comes in. Klaviyo found that in 2018, nearly half of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) sales came from people who had engaged with the stores they purchased from prior to November.

By building an engaged email list, an active blog, and other assets that you truly own, you can decrease your reliance on fickle third-party marketplaces like Amazon and advertising channels like Google. This gives you a big competitive advantage — for Black Friday, the Christmas season, and beyond.

The keys are building that audience when it’s most affordable and then being prepared to convert them when it’s most valuable.

Easier said than done, right?

Fortunately, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Plenty of ecommerce merchants, consultants, and marketing experts who have done this before are more than happy to share their secrets to success. So, we talked to a dozen business owners and marketing professionals to learn their best advice for successful holiday marketing.

Key Takeaways

  • Create holiday gift guides for shoppers.
  • Use social proof to build trust.
  • Use your blog to grow your email list.
  • Segment your email list to triple your email revenue.
  • Build anticipation with subscriber-only offers.
  • Be human.
  • Go analog with direct mail.
  • Don’t overcomplicate your offer.
  • Remember: Your job isn’t done come December 26th.

1. Create holiday gift guides for shoppers

Holiday gift guides have the potential to accomplish a lot of things at once. They can:

  • Build trust
  • Make gift buying easy for shoppers
  • Drive more organic traffic to your website
  • Promote your products at no cost
  • Help you build partnerships with other online businesses

Media giants like Buzzfeed have been cashing in on this type of content for years. Being featured in a third-party gift guide can be huge for holiday sales, but you should also be creating your own to bring shoppers straight to your website.

As you compile your collection of gifts, make sure you don’t try to boil the ocean. Instead of dumping all your products into one massive guide, create a variety of guides targeted at different buyer personas.

Here’s how one online store does it.

Gifts for Gearheads gift guide by Auto Accessories Garage
Gift Guide for Gearheads – Auto Accessories Garage

Make sure you keep keywords in mind so that your gift guides can easily be found on search engines. Use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to learn what types of gifts people are searching for, and use those keywords in your content.

You can also partner with companies in your niche to create and comarket gift guides. When multiple brands promote the guide, you can exponentially increase the number of people browsing your products during the holiday season.

2. Use social proof to build trust

Holiday shoppers often find themselves browsing niche products that they know very little about. That can be overwhelming. Make it easy on them and prove that your products are high-quality by using social proof in your emails, on social media, in ads, and on your website.

And it’s not just UGC! Put product reviews, customer testimonials, and validation from media front-and-center to give shoppers confidence in your products.

Social proof from Republic of Durable Goods

3. Use your blog to grow your email list

Content marketing is important year-round for ecommerce businesses, but it’s especially critical during the holiday season. Not only can content ads bring people to your site at a 90% lower cost than product ads, but your blog can also help you grow your email subscriber list.

Mom Beach uses their blog to drive people to make a purchase, but you can also use this tactic to get shoppers to “pay” for content with their email addresses. If you provide enough value, you can easily use content to build your email list. Then, you can continue marketing to those subscribers for free throughout the holiday season and beyond.

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Healthy drink brand Everly uses content to grow their email list

4. Segment your email list to triple your email revenue

Email segmentation has the potential to double your clicks and triple your email revenue, Klaviyo reports. Those lifts are especially impactful during the holidays.

The more segmented your email list is, the more personalized your emails, content, and offers can be. And because everyone and their grandma are blasting shoppers’ inboxes during the holiday season, you’ve got to be extremely relevant to cut through the noise.

5. Build anticipation with subscriber-only offers

Speaking of emails…why not give your subscribers a little something for their loyalty? This rewards people for being part of your community, and by announcing that deals are coming soon, you can create a sense of anticipation and nudge people to consistently open your emails.

Here’s how beauty retailer Ulta did this during the 2018 holiday season with their 25 Days of Surprise Deals promotion. Each deal was available for one day only, giving subscribers the incentive to open every email so they wouldn’t miss out.

Ulta’s 2018 holiday campaign

6. Be human

Increasingly, people want brands to go beyond transactions and build relationships with them. Don’t underestimate the power of simple, personal marketing outreach. 

Consider sending videos, emails, and holiday cards from the heart. They can be funny, casual, or poignant, depending on your brand voice. Whatever you choose to do, letting your humanity shine through is a high-impact way to make your customers feel appreciated and more connected with your brand.

For example, Lisa Price, the founder of hair and beauty brand Carol’s Daughter, made this short and sweet video to wish customers a happy holiday season.

7. Go analog with direct mail

Snail mail is old school, but it works! Three out of four people sort through their mail as soon as they get it — so your chances of catching shoppers’ eyes are high.

Other types of direct mail to consider include:

  • Catalogs
  • Custom scratch-offs
  • Branded calendars that people will leave up all year ’round
  • Holiday cards (see #6 above!)

Remember: your goal is to drive shoppers to your online store, so your direct mail campaign should incentivize them to visit your website.

8. Don’t overcomplicate your offer

It can be tempting to engineer complex discount strategies for different products, audience segments, and campaigns. But this can get messy fast for small online stores. Typically, it’s best to keep it simple and limit the number of sales and discounts you run during the holiday season.

9. Remember: Your job isn’t done come December 26th

The benefits of your holiday marketing can last long past December. In fact, you should start preparing for next year’s holiday season as soon as possible.

Now, I’m not saying you need to create Christmas campaigns in January. But remember how I mentioned that nearly 50% of Black Friday sales come from previously engaged shoppers? If you focus on building an engaged audience year-round, you’ll have a stronger base to market to next year.

Here’s how marketers at two very different online stores are doing it.

Invest in SEO

Saatva sells luxury, affordable, and eco-friendly mattresses on their online store. It’s no surprise that they publish comparisons between their products and other mattress brands, but they take it a step further by publishing useful, educational content, too.

Here’s a sampling of the content they published during the 2018 holiday season.

Saatva’s blog content during the 2018 holiday season

Identify New Marketing Channels

Some businesses face unique marketing challenges because they sell regulated items, like firearms, alcohol, or cannabis products. They have to be exceptionally creative to build an owned audience — and the tactics they use aren’t exclusive to regulated industries.

There you have it: nine free and inexpensive ways to spruce up your holiday marketing strategy without overspending on digital ads.

For more strategic holiday marketing advice, download your 7-step checklist to preparing your online store for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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