How to nail your email delivery strategy ahead of Black Friday and the shopping season

With the peak shopping season now extending from October to January, now is the time to ensure that your email strategy and infrastructure is ready to capitalize. Find out how with our detailed guide.

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Dave Hitchins

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

What is the shopping season and why is it important for marketers?

Shopping season is the blanket term given to the cluster of holidays and notable dates in the last three months of the calendar year. Along with Christmas in the US there is also Black Friday, Cyber Monday (the Monday after Black Friday) and Green Monday (second Monday of December).

Singles Day is China’s most important shopping day and take place on the 11th of November (11.11). In India and in many other countries with a large Hindu population, Diwali is celebrated in October or November each year and also generates a spike in shopping activity.

For retail and eCommerce businesses it is a crucially important time of the year. To maximize their sales, they need to ensure that potential customers see the messages promoting their offers. As part of an omnichannel communication strategy, email plays a crucial role in this.

In this blog we discuss everything that businesses can do to properly prepare their email delivery processes and infrastructure to capitalize on the season of spending. 

How to ensure the highest deliverability rates for shopping season

Bear in mind that yours won’t be the only business ramping up promotional emails in the run up to the shopping season. You must have your house in order in terms of deliverability in order to ensure that your offers and marketing emails are seen by consumers and don’t end up in Junk folders.

This is not something that can be left to the last minute as it is a gradual process that takes time and effort, but the reward is getting reliable access to shoppers’ inboxes.

Your sender reputation is the single most important factor in dictating the proportion of emails that get reliably delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes.

Several factors contribute to an email sender’s reputation. These include:

  • IP reputation: The reputation of the IP address from which you send your emails.
  • Domain reputation: The reputation of the domain used in your email addresses and links.
  • Email engagement: The level of recipient engagement with your emails, including open rates, click rates and replies.
  • Complaint rate: The number of spam complaints received for your emails.
  • Bounce rate: The percentage of emails that fail to reach the intended recipients because of bad email data.

How to improve your email sender reputation

Maintain clean email lists: As high bounce rates will negatively affect your sender reputation, ensure that your email lists are built and maintained according to industry best practices. When gathering email opt-ins, ensure that your data sources (webforms) produce valid subscriptions in the first place using a double opt-in process and a tool like reCAPTCHA which helps to stop bots and other automated attacks while approving valid users. Regularly cleanse your data by validating your lists and removing invalid or inactive email addresses.

Good list hygiene helps you to avoid spam traps, which are email addresses that look like regular email addresses, but which are intended to identify and penalize deceptive email senders.

Use domain warm up best practice: When starting to send from a new domain it is crucial that you slowly increase the volumes, concentrating on sending to highly engaged recipients, then to people recently active, and then to the rest of your email list. Do this before important periods like the shopping season. This helps to quickly win the confidence of ISPs that you are a valid, reputable sender. Our ‘getting started with email’ documentation is a valuable resource with plenty of practical advice. For black Friday and the peak shopping season it is advised to have more than one pre-warmed sending domain that you can use.

Monitor blocklists: Stay vigilant about your presence on email blocklists. If you find your bounces spiking, you may have been added to one or more and should immediately address the underlying issue and request delisting. Additionally, monitoring your sender reputation regularly helps you identify potential blocking issues.

Useful sites for checking your blocklist status include:

Email content optimized for delivery rates

Create emails that people want to open: People receive a LOT of emails during the holiday season. To avoid being lost in a sea of irrelevant offers, you need to leverage your customer insights to create targeted and personalized messages that resonate with recipients. Interesting and relevant content increases open rates and reduces spam complaints.

Keep message size as small as possible: Reduced email message sizes maximize throughput and increase delivery rates. The two main contributing factors to message size are images and the amount of HTML code used. Images are important for making emails visually appealing, but you should be picky about how many you use and keep files sizes no larger than they need to be to render properly. In addition, it has been proved that short, punchy emails with a clear value offering achieve higher engagement rates than long-winded messages that try and cram in too much.

Provide options to update preferences: Ensure that your emails are compliant by providing an unsubscribe option but go further and enable recipients to manage what messages they receive from you rather than just subscribe/unsubscribe. You don’t want to permanently lose engaged recipients just because they get fed up with the barrage of messages that they receive during peak times.

Authenticate and test your emails: Implement authentication protocols like SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) to verify the authenticity of your emails. Test your content using tools like SpamAssassin and tools that show how the content will look in a variety of email clients like Litmus and EmailOnAcid. All these measures help build trust with ISPs. You can also include ‘seed’ addresses in your lists which belong to email accounts that you have access to so that you can validate live message content and the time of delivery.

Sending domain best practice

There are a number of measures that you can take to ensure the reputation of your sending domain to ensure maximum delivery rates.

  • Avoid corporate domains for bulk campaigns: Consider using subdomains instead of your brand’s main domain for bulk emailing. You can maintain separate reputations by using different subdomains for various types of emails. This ensures that issues with one type of email won’t affect the deliverability of others.
  • Utilize “send behalf of” feature: If you must use the corporate domain as the “from-address,” use the “send behalf of” feature to send emails from a subdomain while displaying the corporate domain as the sender.
  • Avoid brand-new domains as “from-address”: New domains lack a reputation with inbox providers, leading to potential deliverability issues. Choose domains with an established email sending history to increase deliverability and minimize spam filtering.
  • Don’t use parked domains as sender domains: Avoid using domains that are registered but not connected to any online service. Choose active and relevant domains to enhance your email campaigns’ effectiveness.
  • Skip the “no-reply” address: Don’t trigger spam filters and reduce customer interactions by using “no-reply” as the local part of the sender’s email address. Opt for recognizable and readable addresses that encourage engagement.

Holiday season email deployment strategy

You may have developed a first-class sender reputation, created highly engaging email content, and nailed down your domain strategy. You don’t want to sabotage your success on the big day when it comes to actually sending your deployments.

Here are a few pointers to help you optimize your deployments.

Deployment scheduling: Spread your email traffic evenly over the day so that you are sending a steady flow rather than a big bang. Review metrics from past years to see what deployment times resulted in the highest engagement rates. Sending campaigns at random timings (e.g. 11h21 or 13h47) may also help to differentiate you from other senders that send on the hour.  Make sure that you take time zones into account so that emails are delivered at the expected time.

Target engaged recipients: Targeting your more engaged users before targeting your less engaged users will reduce the number of bounces and spam complaints that you get in the key early stages of the campaign. In the lead up to the shopping season closely monitor how recipients have engaged with your messages. Avoid sending emails to people that have not engaged at all in the previous 12 months.

Create nurture flows: Rather than a blast of one-off offers, consider designing a series of messages on a single theme with appropriate follow-up messages sent to recipients that engage. If a recipient misses a previous offer then give them another chance to take it up.

Use AB testing: Test different message content on a small subset of recipients and then use the most successful template for the bulk of the deployment. This process can be automated in most emailsolutions so that campaigns can be continually optimized.  

Cover the abandoned basket use case: People’s buying habits change in the excitement of shopping season. Whereas for the rest of the year people usually shop for specific items, in the sale season they are on the hunt for bargains. One strategy that deal hunters use is to leave items in their basket and then come back if they don’t find the product cheaper elsewhere. This makes the abandoned basket use case crucial to cover.

Deployment monitoring

At a time when you are increasing your message volumes and competing for consumers’ attention it is even more crucial than usual to monitor deployments and keep an eye on key stats that might indicate a problem that needs attention.

Some of these metrics include:

  • Delivery rate: 98%+
  • Bounce rate: ideally less than 3%
  • Open rate: from 15% to 25% for marketing email is acceptable
  • Click-through rate (CTR): ideally between 2% and 5%
  • Click-to-open rate (CTOR): typically, between or greater than 20-30%
  • Unsubscribe rate: ideally below 1%
  • Spam complaints: ideally less than 0.2%.

Email as part of a wider communication strategy

During the increased tempo of peak shopping season it is crucial that data best practices are not ignored. Maintaining a single customer view enables you to provide consistent messaging across all channels in terms of discounts, offers, stock levels, and customer preferences.  

A customer data platform can improve the effectiveness of your email campaigns during peak shopping season by consolidating data from multiple channels in real time. This allows you to refine the targeting of your emails based on customer behaviors like purchases, website browsing, or items added to a basket.

Finally, synchronizing your messaging across multiple channels enables you to reach people who may not check their emails daily, or who are actually out and about in search of a shopping season bargain.  

Improve your email delivery and prepare for shopping season with our Email API

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