The holidays are over; now what? How to improve your post-holiday strategy

Retailers, ecommerce merchants and big box stores alike spend months leading up to the holiday season preparing and planning to ensure they see success and growth. The level of preparation that goes into the holidays is no surprise given the opportunity for not only increased orders but the chance to demonstrate the value of their customer experience and in turn build a larger customer base to work with throughout the rest of the year. It also doesn’t hurt that holiday spending only continues to grow despite the pressures of inflation and supply chain problems.

However, what should you do after the holidays are over?

As the holidays draw to a close, consumers are largely finished with their holiday shopping, gifts have been exchanged, and the wallet is put away until the next birthday or holiday rolls around. January is notorious for being a quieter month for businesses, as customers take a break after all their spending in the months prior. However there are ways merchants can make the most of this period after the holiday; building loyalty, improving customer relationships, and setting up for success in the year ahead. 

#1 - Use email to engage gift card recipients

Gift card sales are on the rise, especially during the holidays. They provide customers with an easy, convenient gift that is sure to delight the recipient, without the stress of shipping deadlines and picking the “right” product. Once the holidays are over, as a merchant you want to ensure that the gift card is spent. This is beneficial from both the perspective of you as a business, and of the customer and their recipient. 

As a business, gift cards typically boost order values - people spend an average of $59 over the value of a gift card. Not only that, but you’re potentially acquiring new customers who are highly interested in your products who may not otherwise have discovered your brand. Your gift card customers are essentially acting as an acquisition tool. This gives you more engaged end customers, who will have the opportunity to try your products and go through your customer experience.

As a customer, you don’t want to be in the situation where you remember you have a gift card months down the road and find it has already expired. More than 49% of US adults in one survey said that at some point they’ve forgotten to use a gift card, and 51% said they currently have a gift card they haven’t yet used. The holidays are busy for consumers - between their own holiday shopping, making plans with friends and family, travelling, and more, it’s no wonder that a gift card sent over email might get lost in the shuffle. This will also improve the customer’s experience and perception of your brand by ensuring they actually get to use their gift card.

That’s why it’s so important to have a plan for engaging gift card recipients after the holidays are over. The best way to do this is with an automated email flow - it will save your team time, and help to boost those post-holiday gift card redemptions. 

Set up a series of reminders, triggered by different actions that the recipient has taken in response to previous emails about their gift card - create different paths based on if they have or have not yet opened the first gift card email. From there, you can tailor the messaging and time triggers. If they haven’t opened it, send an email 1 week after the initial gift card email reminding them that they received one. Set further triggers for 1 months, 2 months, and so on. Once they’ve opened the gift card, you can then move them into a different flow for “opened, but not used” that will again send reminders at different time intervals. 

Add further value to these emails by including product recommendations; if they’ve made a purchase before you can personalize their reminder emails with what they may be interested in based on previous orders, and if they’re new to your store you can recommend what was popular over the holiday season. 

You can also further boost your redemption efforts by creating content around using a gift card. For example, you can write a “gift card guide” similar to a gift guide, where you give gift card recipients recommendations for bestsellers from over the holidays, bundles, and more. You can also create temporary collections in your store that recommend bundles to gift card recipients, i.e. “Got a gift card over the holidays? Here are some ideas”. 

#2 - Launch and promote an end-of-year sale

After the holidays are over it’s common to see end-of-year and January sales sweep the world of retail. It’s a great way to clear out old inventory to make way for new products, boost those post-holiday sales figures, and engage customers. In the UK, Boxing Day sales that begin on December 26th remain extremely popular, with the average household spend expected to increase by more than 50% year-on-year between 2020 and 2021.

When launching a sale, you need to answer a few key questions first:

  • Is the sale site-wide or product specific?
  • Will there be a discount or fixed dollar amount?
  • Will a code be required, or will it be applied automatically?
  • Any bonus discounts for loyalty program members or VIP customers?

From there, you can determine which products are included in the sale, and any other terms and conditions you want to apply such as returns and exchanges, shipping costs, etc. Promote the sale on the homepage of your store, social media, and via email and SMS.

Sales are also a great way to engage gift card buyers and recipients to encourage gift card redemption. By promoting an end-of-year or start-of-year sale via email to gift card buyers, they’ll be more likely to share this information with the recipient of the gift card as they’ll get more value for their money by spending it on sale items. This encourages them to spend their gift card sooner rather than later, saving them the potential disappointment if they forget about their card and miss your reminder emails.

If you want to truly boost your sale’s chances of success and engage your customers, then include personalized recommendations in promotional emails. Rather than a simple email promoting a sale, it’ll be items specifically that each customer is actually interested in and therefore they’ll be more likely to browse and purchase.  

#3 - Set up automated review requests

Reviews are important year round, not just during the holiday season - 93% of consumers say reviews influence their purchase decisions. The large influx of orders over those few weeks offers you a great opportunity to gather reviews that will serve you over the following weeks and months long after the holidays have passed. Customers are generally more than willing to help out also - one study found that 68% were happy to provide feedback when asked.

These reviews are also important for a reason beyond the benefit of having social proof ready for future customers - you’ll be able to gather reviews directly related to gifts. Your customers over the holidays will vary from your usual audience as you’ll have a decent percentage who will be purchasing gifts and may not necessarily be familiar with your brand or products. These customers’ opinions and reviews will influence similar customer audiences throughout the rest of the year as they look for gift ideas. Recommendations from customers familiar with your products will spark confidence, but recommendations from customers who gave your products as gifts could be what pushes a potential customer looking for a gift to place an order.

Much like reminder emails, these review requests can be automated. Platforms like Yotpo and other apps found in the Shopify App Store make it easy for merchants to streamline the process of gathering reviews. Segment audiences and tailor the messaging for customers who ordered during the holiday season, asking that if they purchased products as a gift to please leave a review to let future customers know about their experience in buying a gift through your store. You should also target and tailor messaging for those who purchased gift cards, as this is a slightly different experience than buying a physical product. As much as people understand what a gift card is, it still is valuable to have reviews that let future customers know that they were a welcome gift and easy to both purchase and use.

The more reviews you can gather from different customer segments, the better they’ll serve your store throughout the rest of the year.

#4 - Build loyalty with retention marketing

When the holidays are over, it’s typical to see a drop in sales and incoming orders. The focus from here should then be on retention, and building a strong relationship with those customers you saw over the holiday season. After all, it can cost five times more to acquire a customer than retaining an existing one, and the rate of success in selling is 60-70% vs 5-20% for a new customer. You’ve already done the work in acquiring the customers over the holidays, so now comes time to give them a reason to remain loyal. 

Your primary tool for directly engaging these customers will be email and SMS. Using these to promote your store, and get customers to buy-in to your brand will greatly improve your chances of retention. 

It first helps to segment customers based on different characteristics and criteria. Here are some segmentation ideas to get you started: 

  • New vs returning customers - Returning customers won’t need introduction campaigns and brand information, but new customers most likely will. Returning customers will also benefit from more detailed personalization, as you'll have much more data than on a new customer.

  • Holiday shoppers vs rest-of-year - Your usual customers from the rest of the year won’t be as interested in post-holiday engagement efforts, especially if they're from weeks or months before the holidays. In this case, segment them so you can send messaging which thanks holiday shoppers for their support over the season.

  • Discount vs full price - If you’re going to incentivize a repeat purchase, you may want to give a better one to those customers who didn’t use a discount code the first time.

  • Loyal customers - The more loyal the customer, the more likely you’ll be to want to give them a better incentive as a reward. They’ll also require different messaging.

From there, you can tailor the kind of messaging and incentives you use depending on the customer set. A loyal customer who shops year-round may warrant a really good incentive to thank them for their continued support. Whereas a new customer from over the holidays may need more in the way of brand introduction. 

There are a few key elements of your store that you want to promote to all customers with tweaked messaging to demonstrate the value in your customer experience and why they may want to return to your store:

  • Loyalty programs - What better for loyalty than a loyalty program? For new customers, let them know how your program works, the benefits they could make the most of, and what their purchase has already earned them. For existing customers and members of your program, remind them of the perks they’re entitled to and any points or tiers they’ve earned with their holiday purchases as well as any referral codes.
  • Customer support - Especially for new customers, it’s important to let them know their support options. They may need to initiate a return, or get in touch with a question. Whatever they need, you want to make it easy for them and let them know your team is ready to help. 96% of customers say customer service is an important factor in their brand loyalty.
  • Personalized recommendations - Using your store data to personalize recommendations is vital to retention. People receive so many marketing emails in their inbox on a regular basis, they don’t have time to sift through every one to find products relevant to their interests. Send regular recommendations based on previous purchases, including any product bundles that may be relevant.

  • Gift cards - During key gifting holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s/Father’s Day, Christmas, etc., it’s important to send your customers updates on gift card availability. Especially if a customer has purchased a gift card in the past, you want to target them with messaging that acknowledges their previous purchase.

Use SMS to complement your email retention strategy, sending short SMS messages to let different customer segments know about flash sales, loyalty program bonus point opportunities, and other store events they may be interested in.