Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Jul 31, 2008

10 Marketers Reveal Top Holiday Lessons, What They're Testing Now

SUMMARY: It's not too early to look at improving your last holiday season -- especially with more consumers than ever expected to shop online because of gas prices. Check out what 10 ecommerce marketers deem to be the biggest opportunities to turn 2007 holiday defeats into victories.

Includes loads of tips and practical lessons, such as:
- Timing multivariate tests
- Emailing men vs. emailing women
- Including cross-sells in emails
- Improving CRM
- Upgrading personalization
- 5 intriguing dos and don'ts
The traditional holiday shopping season for ecommerce marketers is expected to be as competitive as ever with gas prices changing consumer spending habits. More people will shop online to avoid gas expenses. So, ecommerce marketers will be looking to find the right angle for each customer.

But, are marketers testing early and often enough? If you got a late jump on your testing last year, you weren't alone. Brad Wolansky, VP, Global Ecommerce, The Orvis Company, says that the "main thing" they learned during the '07 holidays was that getting an early start on campaigns had become imperative.

"We want to do a better job of getting people's attention," Wolansky says. "It's a crowded time of year. There's going to be a lot of offers that are competing for people's pocketbook."

You really need only one testing breakthrough to help a campaign soar, and an increasing number of marketers have recognized that fact. MarketingSherpa's Online Advertising Benchmark Guide 2008 showed that a 56% of marketers had A/B tests budgeted for this year, while 39% said they would run multivariate tests.

The exact kind of tests you use depends on your marketing needs. But it can help to know what other marketers have tested or plan to test -- and why.

5 Big Lessons from '07

Here are five big lessons that marketers learned from the '07 holidays. Some of lessons have been turned into pre-holidays tests, while others were actually tested *during* last season:

-> Big Lesson #1. Later tests can create 200% lifts

Not all marketers think summer is the best time for testing holiday campaigns.

Sam Ee, Art Director and Principal Designer, MIVA Direct Inc., and his team have learned that a much different scheduling approach works best. Last year, Ee says they did multivariate testing the week before Thanksgiving, as opposed to testing earlier on the calendar and then "coasting the rest of the way."

"After we got the multivariate results, we locked down the winning elements and used them from the duration of the holiday season. From that point, our conversion rate increased by 200%. If we would have done the multivariate earlier when the site was slower, we wouldn't have gotten such meaningful data. We plan on waiting with our testing again this year in order to achieve similar results."

A few of the elements they tested:
o button color
o main images
o image placement on layouts
o verbiage

-> Big Lesson #2. Holiday data brims with know-how

A busy first quarter kept Serhat Pala, President, GBBS Online Stores, from examining holiday data until after the spring. When he and his team finally got to it, they proved that looking at the data points from multiple angles can sometimes be nearly as valuable as a test.

They pored over the numbers and learned that female customers converted to sale much earlier in the holiday season than male customers did. The timing differences were surprisingly dramatic, Pala says.

There's no way to accurately test these shopping patterns, which are exclusive to the Thanksgiving to Christmas period, at any other juncture on the calendar. Consumer behaviors during the traditional holidays are simply unique.

So, they are taking the data from last year as fact, he says, and implementing it into their strategy this year. Their email campaigns, therefore, will emphasize women's products in November while men's items will be stressed in the final two weeks of December.

"When it comes to the men's product-focused emails, we will focus on the urgency factor. And, we will emphasize in the copywriting that the gifts will arrive on time."

-> Big Lesson #3. Email with site cross-sells increases AOV by 10%

It's a best practice to focus emails on one offer or action item. At the same time, every brand has to know what hits their subscribers' hot buttons.

Dave Duckwitz, General Manager of Ecommerce,, and his team ran an interesting test on a small email segment during the last holidays. They prominently placed website cross-sell items in tandem with the featured product. For instance, items, such as pocket calculators and stationery, accompanied selections from their signature product line of ink cartridges.

The results to the test showed "an overall increase in average order value of approximately 10%," Duckwitz explains. "And we are now prepared to take full advantage of the idea this holiday season."

-> Big Lesson #4. One smart tweak can wipe out CRM headaches

Sam Bruni, Director of Customer Service,, and his team were having a nearly impossible time last year keeping up with customer questions about where their overnight gift deliveries were. Specifically, when there was a delay that involved their shipping provider, UPS, the carrier would send an alert to Bruni's CRM team. The team then sent an email message or called the customer. This backed up the queue and put additional stress on their reps.

"Besides why the gift package was going to be late, there wasn't a lot we could actually tell the customers. It was creating a lot of unnecessary [CRM] contacts."

This summer, they've worked with UPS to tweak their system so the alert automatically goes from the courier directly to the customers' inbox. The email describes the reason for the delay and supplies a hotlink and a toll-free number to track the package.

"We've been testing it, and it's going to eliminate a big headache for us. We can see that it's going to decrease our number of contacts significantly."

-> Big Lesson #5. Listen to customers amid confusion

Even when operations go a bit crazy, you still have to remember to listen to your customers for clues on how to improve what you do. For example, observed in threads of customer feedback that people would like more personalization. Specifically, the company learned that they needed to test allowing site viewers to upload personal pictures and put them on their gift cards.

They will begin testing that feature next week. Desiree Wienand, Marketing Manager, says they're extremely confident that the photos will boost sales and allow their brand to stand out in the competitive gift-card niche.

"We are going to use the first half of August to test out our print-on-demand system before we roll out the full service," Wienand says. "Based on current trends, we fully expect the personalized photos feature to be a real value-add that our site visitors will find attractive."

3 Dos and 2 Don'ts for the Holiday Season

Without question, testing new tactics and retesting older ones is a sure-fire way to achieve greater sales. Strong pieces of advice can also come in handy. Here are four intriguing dos and don'ts from marketers that are based on what they learned during last holiday season:

Do #1. Watch your price points in this economic downturn

"The overriding theme is going to be frugality," says Michael Cramer, Co-Founder, Adagio Teas. "Online shoppers will be thinking, 'How can I check out without spending too much money?' So, we are looking to appeal more with value propositions."

Furthermore, Cramer and his team plan on setting their merchandising system to push products that are priced between $19 and $49. In addition, the five cross-sell items that appear on their products details pages will fall in that price range.

Do #2. Use incentives to push traffic towards Website

Use incentives to direct customers to the Website rather than the call center -- especially if you are sending out a catalog. It will take some heat off your busy CRM reps and cut down your operations cost. Since employing this tactic, for instance, Legendary Whitetails has successfully transitioned 10% more sales to online that used to be offline.

Do #3. Double-check under the hood and have a backup system

Ever wake up in the middle of the night because you're having a nightmare about the site breaking down on a busy day? That was the reality facing Jessica Koster, Ecommerce Director, Danskin, and her team last year on Cyber Monday of all days when their Yahoo! shopping cart crashed. "We learned our lesson," she says. "This year, we are going to have a Plan B for things just in case there are more hiccups."

Don't #1. Drop your print catalog the week of the presidential election

Wait until America becomes refocused on everyday life after the election. Your big-time efforts are going to get lost in the political hysteria and produce small-time results.

Need proof? In 2004, Legendary Whitetails dropped the catalog right "on top of the election," says Mark Kaiser, VP Marketing. "And it wasn't a good drop. You need to let the criers cry and the yeahers yeah before they'll get back to doing regular things."

Don't #2. Focus too much on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Those days are important, but not to the point where you lose out on other marketing opportunities, says Neil Kugelman, CEO, "From what we've seen, ecommerce customers' big days are the last six days before Christmas. The last-minute orders are really huge."

Useful links related to this article

How to Optimize Landing Pages to Maximize Holiday Traffic Conversions

Case Study: Viral Holiday Email Card That Broke the Boredom Barrier

Adagio Teas

GBSS Online Stores

Legendary Whitetails

MIVA Direct Inc.

The Orvis Company

See Also:

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.