Brands send a lot of email in November and December—far more than any other time of the year. Which makes sense: consumers are primed to buy, and the holiday season is huge for many brands' bottom line. Last year, we witnessed the greatest industrywide annual increase in holiday online shopping revenue and website visits in the history of online shopping. According to predictions, the 2018 holiday retail season is poised to eclipse 2017's.

But here's the catch. With everyone ramping up their email volume at the same time, you're competing not only for your customers' attention in the inbox but also for available resources at the ISPs delivering your mail. Sending too many emails (especially if they go unopened) puts you at risk of ending up in the spam folder and potentially damaging your sender reputation with the ISPs—not a good way to start the new year.

They key is quality over quantity. To get your emails opened and maximize conversions, use strategies that deliver content that's relevant and personal to customers. To do that well, website visitor identification is essential.

Triggered email is No. 1

Abandoned-cart emails are the most common triggered email type, and the most straightforward. When a shopper puts something in the cart and leaves without purchasing—which happens about 70% of the time on retail websites—persuading the shopper to complete the sale often doesn't take much. Abandoned-cart reminders sent over the subsequent few hours typically result in 10-25% of abandoners' making a purchase (with free shipping or dollars off tipping it toward the higher end of that range).

Think how such emails can affect the bottom line. If over the course of a day on a retail website 1,000 carts are started and 700 are abandoned, only 300 result in a sale. If an email is triggered to those 700 abandoners, and 10% (70) follow through with an order with an average order value of $100, that's an additional $7,000 in revenue per day. Multiply that by 365 days in a year, and that's an additional $2.5 million in annual revenue.

Of course, it's not quite so easy, because most website visitors don't sign in or enter any identifying information about themselves before abandoning a cart—and an email can't be triggered if the shopper can't be identified. It's not uncommon for ESPs to be able to identify only 30% or less of cart abandoners; however, with today's advances in technology, you should be able to identify at least 60% or more (and there are easy-to-implement services that work with your ESP to do this). Applied to our earlier example, identifying 30% of 700 cart abandoners (210), with a 10% conversion rate at $100 per order, translates into $2,100 per day—or more than $750,000 in revenue per year. But if 60% is identified, that annual figure rises to over $1.5 million. And if you bring your identification rate up to 75%, which is a realistic target with the right technology, this figure rises to nearly $2 million.

As you can see, the more website visitors you can identify, the more revenue you will generate.

Taking into account how much more shopping takes place this time of year, your identification rate is particularly important during the holiday season. Using the same example, if the retailer's started cart rate doubles to 2,000 per day (i.e., 1,400 carts abandoned) in the months of November and December, the email revenue difference for a 30% vs. 75% identification rate during that time period is huge: $250,000 vs $630,000. For larger retailers, more along the lines of 20,000 carts started per day (i.e., 14,000 carts abandoned), that's a $2.5 million vs. $6.3 million difference in triggered email revenue for the holiday season!

Go beyond abandoned-cart triggered email

Other types of triggered email offer multiple additional opportunities to increase revenue—and, again, identification rate makes all the difference because it directly affects revenue. The nice part is, once you optimize your identification rate for abandoned carts, that same high identification rate will optimize your other email triggers: Abandoned browse, abandoned search, and abandoned category work similarly to abandoned cart.

Triggers generated by updates to your merchandise in tandem with a customer's browse and purchase history also have high rates of return—such as Trending Now, Price Reduction, New Arrivals, Inventory Low, and Back in Stock. Moreover, email triggers that "fire" when a customer is identified shopping elsewhere online will get your emails to the inbox when that customer is in shopping mode (and therefore much more likely to engage).

Increase conversions with product recommendations

To make your triggered email even more relevant and personal, or to personalize otherwise generic bulk email, include dynamic product recommendations unique to each recipient. Recommendations are determined based on items that the shopper recently browsed or purchased, together with items that similar shoppers browsed or purchased. They're great for getting those emails opened, particularly with bulk email, and for generating upsell and cross-sell revenue.

Do A/B-testing

Don't skip out on A/B-testing. Testing keeps you up on the trends and potholes of the ever-changing online retail environment. For example, emojis in subject lines were once a hit that pumped up open rates, but not so much anymore.

Transactional email offers hidden opportunities

Low email open rates are often bemoaned, meanwhile a golden opportunity to reach customers with personalized marketing is overlooked. Transactional emails—including receipts, purchase confirmations, back orders, order confirmations, shipping confirmations, returns, and refunds—have the highest open rates among all retail email. During the holiday season, smart use of transactional emails can increase sales and keep customers from looking elsewhere to make their next purchase. Opportunities include upselling and cross-selling with dynamic product recommendations, as well as using them as a vehicle for triggered email content.

Give yourself the gift of email revenue!

This holiday season, put your best foot forward with an email strategy that optimizes engagement and revenue by delivering content that's relevant and personal to each customer. And don't forget about website visitor identification rate, which is fundamental to your email revenue bottom line.

There may still be time to drastically increase your identification rate before the holidays. But even if not, make sure it's on your agenda before the next busy shopping season. You'll thank yourself for the gift of email revenue!

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Holiday Email Done Right Is Huge for the Bottom Line: Five Tips for Doing It Right

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image of Bob Gaito

Bob Gaito is CEO of consumer insights and interaction services provider 4Cite, which he co-founded in 2010. He has 20+ years of experience in servicing direct marketers. In early 2000, he founded I-Centrix, which is now part of Epsilon.

LinkedIn: Bob Gaito