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The Final Showdown: December 2020 Holiday Marketing Analysis

Ah, the post-holiday relief. The calm after the storm. The stiff drink after a long day. The busiest time of year has come to a close for shoppers and retailers alike, and now that we have some distance, let’s recap what went down in the final month of the holiday season.

“Be loud or be forgotten,” said almost every major brand this holiday season.

Retailers didn’t shy away from shopper’s inboxes this month. In fact, some brands sent more emails in December than ever before. Okay, “than ever before” might be an exaggeration, but more emails than we’ve tracked the past two holiday seasons, and some by a landslide. Those at the forefront include Bloomingdale’s and Saks with over three emails per day for the entire month of December.

With major brands increasing their email sends by almost 400% YOY, it has us wondering if this is a trend here to stay, or if it’s a fight for the homebound shoppers’ attention in a weird year.

Small progress is still progress, and when it comes to personalization, we’ll take what we can get.

One good thing to come out of 2020 is retail brands are realizing the impact of personalized interactions with customers. From September to December 2020, we saw an increase in the number of behaviorally targeted communications received from retailers, with almost half of Saks, Target and Sephora’s emails including tailored messages based on previous cart and browse behavior.

We also saw dramatic increases in personalized messages from Bloomingdale’s, whose tailored emails grew 100% from September to December of this year, and Target, whose grew 30% in that same time period. On the other hand, Nordstrom, a top department store and a favorite of Millennials, sent no personalized emails in December.

And while Walmart, Home Depot, Saks and Macy’s sent no behavioral-based emails in September 2020, they improved those numbers drastically during this year’s holiday season, with Home Depot personalizing every email sent last month.

Since 70% of Millennials are frustrated with brands sending them irrelevant emails, this seems like a step in the right direction, and one that we hope continues into the New Year.

Brands created a sense of urgency with fear of shipping delays.

Retailers scaled back talk of COVID-19 safety precautions in December and replaced it with another pandemic side effect… shipping delays. Most major brands sent letters from their CEO’s to shoppers acknowledging the potential for logistical delays and urging people to shop early.

To compensate for the potential disruption, Walmart, Target, Apple, Bloomie’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus promoted the “fastest” way to get gifts, with both Curbside Pick-Up and BOPIS options.

“Fast Delivery” was also an incentive used by major brands Walmart, Target, Apple, Bloomie’s, Macy’s and e-Commerce brand, Everlane.

And of course, free delivery made an appearance, with Bloomie’s, Saks, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus highlighting free delivery in every email.

Shop until the ball drops.

Last minute shoppers received perks for their procrastination and Christmas Day did not mark the end of mass sales and promotions from retailers.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Best Buy and Home Depot drove engagement with last-minute savings promotions, and Sephora made the most of Super Saturday by encouraging shoppers to enter their sweepstakes for free $100 gift cards.

When typically the morning after Christmas is a time to relax, shopping finished and gifts given, this is not the case for retailers. Before the clock struck midnight on the 25th, brands were pumping messages announcing their “After Christmas Sale,” with promotions of 75% off or more.

In fact, major department store brands Saks, Bloomie’s and Neiman Marcus were sending 3+ messages a day until the last day of the year encouraging shoppers to make the most of these mass discounts.

Now that we’ve reached 2021, the sales have died down and it seems the industry and its customers are taking a pause and resetting for the year ahead. By the time next holiday season arrives, we hope COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, and we’ll be watching to see what that means for the retail industry. Thanks for tuning in this year!