‘Tis the Season: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Holiday Emails

With supply chain constraints and higher projected sales than ever, now is the time to get your 2021 holiday email marketing campaigns in order. Capture early sales while the hype is high.

It’s time to start your holiday email marketing now! Here’s why: 

November to January 2021 is projected to see the highest sales to date, totaling up to $1.3 trillion. With limited supplies and long shipping times from overseas, this is the perfect opportunity for local businesses to make more sales.


And people are shopping early this year. So if you were thinking of getting those holiday emails out in late November, you could miss out on weeks of easy sales.

Furthermore, ecommerce holiday sales are expected to grow 35% compared to 2020, which was already a huge year for ecommerce. So if you’re selling early, locally, and online, start sending emails ASAP to maximize your holiday sales.

We’ve got you covered with some top tips to help you prepare and send sales-driven holiday emails.

1. Start your holiday email planning early

A Bob's Burgers scene with a Christmas tree set up and text that reads "It's the day after Halloween, Lin."

There’s a reason you’re seeing toy stores, supermarkets, and other retailers start putting out holiday decorations and flyers before Halloween this year. People get to making wish lists and buying gifts as soon as the first cold snap hits.

Encourage shoppers to pick up a gift from you early, so they don’t wait until the last minute — potentially missing a Christmas or Hanukkah deadline. You also want to make sure they buy from you before their holiday spending budget is gone.

The holiday season should be your busiest time of the year. Set yourself up for success by planning and email marketing early.

2. Create a holiday email calendar

Keeping track of all the holidays — Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year — can quickly become overwhelming. Organize the mayhem with a holiday email editorial calendar. No need to overthink it — you can set up a calendar on a spreadsheet or Canva template like this one:

A holiday email calendar with multiple dates circled and a list of the holidays from Halloween to Christmas.

A calendar can also help you accommodate for the rest of your team’s time, which comes in handy if they’re helping with tasks like design, writing, or scheduling the message.

Make sure your email editorial calendar is up to date with your holiday campaigns. You’ll be sending a lot of emails this time of year, so planning everything out in advance will help you meet your deadlines and create content your subscribers will love.

At the same time, make sure you don’t overmail your audience. If you start to notice more unsubscribes than usual, consider the frequency of your emails. 

You may also want to consider adding a “mute” button or link in your emails. This will reduce your unsubscribes during periods of increased sending. Your audience might want to stay on your list and hear from you…just not right now, or not about this particular topic/promotion.

Give your audience the freedom to choose.

Plus, this allows you to send messages to a segment of subscribers that actually WANTS to receive them. You’ll likely see higher conversion rates, higher opens and clicks, and higher revenue generated from this targeted audience.

Related: 7 simple steps to get started with email segmentation.

3. Offer exclusive holiday promotions

A gif that reads "I got a coupon!"

A “50% off” subject line is going to trigger one of your highest-opened emails — plus, it’ll lead to more sales. With fewer sales running this year, your deal can be closer to 20% or 30% off. But to keep up with the competition, you need to offer some holiday promotion to your audience.

Don’t have a physical product to offer? This is the perfect time to provide discounts on digital gifts like online courses, ebooks, checklists, templates, and more.

4. Check your (email) list and check it twice

Now’s a great time to try to re-engage subscribers who have slowly stopped engaging with your email messages over time. If you can’t, then it may be time to clean your list. 

This is your chance to have your brand become top of mind before your holiday promotional emails are delivered. Inside AWeber, you can easily search for subscribers that have not engaged with your emails over a period of time.

Then, send a message to invite them to stay on the list. This might include an incentive to stick around, or some extra useful content. 

Here’s an example the AWeber team has sent before:

Re-engagement email example from AWeber

If they still don’t engage (open or click), it’s in your best interest to unsubscribe these subscribers. Unengaged subscribers can negatively impact your open rates and deliverability, or they may even hit the SPAM button when your content arrives in their inbox.

5. Write festive holiday email marketing subject lines

Your subject line is one of the most important parts of getting your holiday emails opened and read. Make sure you mention special offers and details about your holiday promotions in your subject line to catch your subscribers’ attention.

If you plan on featuring a 50% discount on an online course, make sure you mention the course and the discount in your subject line.

Check out these great subject lines that hint at what subscribers will find if they open a holiday email.

  • 60% Off (Yep!) Holiday Must-Haves
  • Cue the Cozy With 20% Off! Holiday Shopping Starts Here – the countdown is on!
  • $25 Gift Ideas – Holiday Sale 25% Off Site Wide

Related: Jumpstart Your Holiday Emails with 200+ Ready-Made Subject Lines

6. Build a sense of urgency in your holiday emails

A gif with a dog in a Santa costume that reads "Christmas is coming"

The more you can emphasize the urgency or importance of buying now, the more you can influence subscribers to take action.

So how can you get your audience to feel this way?

By referencing news, dates, times, seasons, or limited time offers.

Check out how Talbots offered a limited time discount to customers who purchased before midnight.

Holiday email limited time discount

7. Get festive with your holiday email design

Consider using a holiday email template or including design elements that convey a festive vibe.

Bring in holiday or winter-themed colors to add a festive flair that accompanies the email content.

Check out how Code School brought in festive images to their seasonal email.

seasonal emails design

One of the best ways to spice up your holiday emails is with themed images. And you don’t need a graphic designer or a custom photo budget to do so. You can use Canva, a free and easy designer tool with thousands of templates, images, and graphics. Plus, you can create email images using Canva directly inside AWeber.

You can also find free stock photos (images that anyone can use creatively) at unsplash.com and pexels.com. 

Once you find the perfect image, think about ways you can customize it to match your brand. If you need some tips, this post has easy ways to brand your images for free.

When looking for images or design inspiration, try brainstorming keywords that make you think of the holiday season, like winter, gift wrap, greenery, hot chocolate, or cookies. This can help you stand out in a sea of red and green while also keep your holiday email “on brand” and recognizable.

You can also include GIFs in your emails to spice up the holiday feel.

Resource: Free holiday GIFs to spice up your emails.

8. Remember your last-minute shoppers

A supermarket sweep gif with someone racing with a shopping cart.

There will always be buyers who wait until the last minute to get their holiday shopping done. We love them just as much as the early birds. Make sure you keep these shoppers in mind when planning your holiday emails.

Think about last minute deals, offering gift cards or certifications, or guaranteed shipping and in-store pickup before the big day, to help make these customers’ lives easier. 

The holidays can be stressful enough, so if you can do something that helps ease the stress of last minute shopping, your customers will remember your brand favorably in the future.

9. Split test and measure your success

How do you know what product or service offer will yield the most sales during Black Friday or Cyber Monday? How do you know what subject line will stand out in an already crowded inbox?

The truth is…you don’t.

Split testing (or A/B testing) an email to a small percentage of your email list will give you an opportunity to discover what works.

Using AWeber’s split testing feature, you can test two offers: 20% off v. 30% off. Then, send two emails. Each one will go to a small, random segment of the list — say, 10%. Then track the success of the emails to see which offer was most popular and drove more sales.

split test email marketing offer 20% off
split test email marketing offer 30% off

Upgrade to AWeber Pro today to start split testing your emails.

Spread some holiday email cheer

While you may already have a holiday email campaign in motion, it’s never too late to make tweaks along the way. The more you can make your emails stand out from the rest this time of year, the merrier the season will be for you and your business.

Ready to send your own holiday emails? Get started with a free AWeber account today and plan your holiday email cheer now.