With 40% of consumers having already started their holiday shopping, the early rush of promotional messages makes sense, says one expert.

While many consumers have yet to put away their Halloween decorations, online retailers are wasting no time focusing shoppers’ attention on their holiday shopping lists.

Many retailers among the 100 large North American e-retailers Internet Retailer is analyzing as part of its ongoing coverage of the 2015 holiday season ramped up their holiday-centric email marketing campaigns this week.

That isn’t surprising given that roughly 40% of consumers planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation’s holiday shopping survey. If shoppers are already in the holiday shopping mindset, it would be foolish for retailers not to feature holiday-centric messages in emails, says Chad White, research director at email testing and analytics vendor Litmus.

“There is ongoing sensitivity to retailers focusing on the holidays too soon,” he says. “But I think some concerns are overblown. There’s a market there already and it’s been there for weeks, if not months.”

That explains why a retailer like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 3 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, featured a variety of holiday themes in email marketing messages. For instance, an email on Tuesday featured the subject line “Holiday rollbacks + free shipping on photo gifts and cards.” Messages on Wednesday had the subject lines “Hot! Hot! Hot! Free shipping + toy savings + more” and “So many reasons to get the free Walmart app this season,” and on Thursday “Start saving now and offers free customization of gifts.” The emails’ content, including the “Start saving now” flier displayed atop several messages, appeared aimed to get shoppers shopping early, rather than waiting for Thanksgiving weekend.


“Retailers need to be top of mind when shoppers are ready to buy,” White says. “While that may be Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it may be weeks before. Retailers are taking consumers’ cues and focusing on driving those early sales.”

A retailer like Wal-Mart using exclamation points and other unusual capitalization is likely the result of A/B testing results that show consumers are more likely to open those messages, White says.

Sephora USA Inc., No. 141 in the Top 500 Guide, is another retailer making a significant early holiday email push. This week the retailer sent a message with the subject line “Let the holiday shopping begin” that highlighted a promotion featuring holiday gifts. Another email’s subject read, “For you. 1 of 4 holiday sample bags. Pick your party favorites,” and offered samples with such names as Mistletoe Moments in complimentary clutches. The email also sought to drive shoppers into the retailer’s stores by promoting in-store “Merry Makeovers.”

And while it is still early days in the holiday season, that didn’t stop DSW Inc., No. 133 in the Top 500 Guide, from sending an email that sought to give shoppers a sense of urgency with the subject line “Only 7 weekends left to shop!” That message highlighted gifts at specific price points—under $25, $50 and $75.


While retailers such as Brooks Brothers Inc. and Shoebuy.com Inc. didn’t send any emails this week to new subscribers, that stands to change in the coming weeks, White says.

“The rule of thumb is to send more emails when shoppers are in the market to buy,” he says. “When the holidays arrive, everyone is in the market to buy. And so retailers can and should send more messages, typically around 50% more, than their baseline.”

Of course, there’s plenty of nuance in retailers’ email message volume given that many retailers send emails for abandoned carts or when consumers spend a lot of time on a particular page or section of the site or simply segment their email lists based on shoppers’ past purchases.

“Those types of personalized emails will make a big difference,” White says. “That’s what drives sales.”