Come Again: Maximizing Value of Holiday Season’s Customers

The holiday season's great for customer acquisition. But unless you use a matching holiday-focused retention plan, you might never see these customers again

Ben Jacobson
January 16 2019

According to the most recent “E-commerce Holiday Customer Benchmark” report from RJMetrics, the average e-commerce business acquires 24% of its new customers during the holiday season. As people prepare to give their loved ones gifts, you’re likely hitting sales records, average order value records, and otherwise far outperforming January through October.Source

But don’t let the busy season go to your head.

While the holidays bring an influx of new customers from all over, those customers tend to be more fickle than someone shopping in the summer, for example. So while your acquisition numbers are high during the holidays, your customer retention rate is in danger of taking a dip. Those who buy from you during this discounting season are 19% less likely to buy from you again compared to your general customer pool, according to research from Optimove.

Holiday shoppers are harder to retain for lots of reasons, none of which can be directly attributed to your business specifically.

For example, holiday shoppers are less likely to shop for themselves, so the stores they visit will shift. They also tend to focus on what RJMetrics calls “holiday-sensitive” retail categories like electronics and apparel, items that don’t have a direct logical connection to winter solstice celebrations, and products individuals don’t replace as frequently as other goods. And finally, you have a fair amount of deal hunters during Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions.

All of this, combined with the sheer volume of marketing messages aimed at consumers during the holiday season, can make engaging and retaining these new customers harder long-term. In fact, the previously mentioned report found that customers acquired during the holiday season have a 13% lower customer lifetime value than those acquired in the offseason.

Given their unique eCommerce habits, you’d do well to create a separate customer retention strategy for holiday shoppers as well. Here are a few tactics to consider.

Expedite retention efforts

The cadence of your retention efforts should match the shortened buyer journeys of the holiday shopping season. People are shopping more than usual and being marketed to more than usual.

Holiday campaigns can easily overpower your average cadence, so it’ll need an adjustment.

Since many holiday shoppers who make repeat purchases from specific eCommerce shops do so during the same holiday season, you can push for a second purchase sooner than you normally might. Normal buyer cycles are disrupted by holiday deals and buying gifts for other people, throwing off the patterns your customers would normally stick to.

That’s why it’s worth encouraging new customers to buy again early and often. There are many holiday-focused ways to do this. Suggesting gifts for different people in the customer’s life can be highly effective. If you have a customer loyalty program, inviting holiday shoppers to opt into it immediately can encourage more gift shopping with you as well.

Finally, reminding them of holiday shopping-related dates and deals can help. Sur La Table sends emails reminding shoppers of when they need to place gift orders by for free on-time shipping.Source 

It’s a time of saturated marketing and distracted shoppers, so this type of persistence – and scarcity messaging – is necessary to break through all the other promotions competing for your customer’s dollars and attention.

Segment out once-a-year buyers

Next, make sure that you’re using tagging and segmentation in your marketing and sales software to identify first-timer shoppers during the holidays. Since the habits that brought them to you are so different from the usual shopping patterns you see, you need to easily cater your future marketing campaigns towards them.

It’s more than possible to retain fleeting holiday shoppers provided you understand who they are and why they bought from you. Yes, even if they’re just deal seekers.


If you can identify a male shopper buying women’s accessories as a gift, you know not to regularly send him promotions for women’s products. However, when your Mother’s Day marketing campaigns start up, you’ll want to be sure those shoppers are buying gifts for the women in their lives.

Smart segmentation can even create value in otherwise deadbeat bargain hunters.

Let’s say you have a customer who made several large orders during holiday sales and promotions. A follow up call-to-action to check out full-priced products may turn them away, so you may be better off putting their nurturing on hold until your next big sale. Super savers may not shop with you regularly, but large average order values during promotions can still create a high customer lifetime value.

But this type of customization is only possible when you’re segmenting customers strategically from the start of your strategy.

Recommend (actually) related products

Finally, your cross-selling and other product recommendations should focus on specific, related products for holiday shoppers.

This is because new customers acquired during the holidays most likely made a purchase because of a specific promotion or product. The rest of the year, shoppers are less focused, and you can more easily attract customers based on brand values and persona.

But right now, people are looking for specific gift ideas for specific people in their lives.

Your marketing needs to make that easy for them, so customize it accordingly.

IncStores does this effectively and easily with popups powered by OptinMonster, which inject a CTA with the name of the subcategory being shopped. The conversion goal here was to capture email addresses of anonymous sales prospects, but a similar dynamic messaging strategy can be used in post-purchase emails as well.

Focusing on related products versus items that are trending or popular among all of your site visitors and buyers simply adds more relevance.

And this is even more true in the case of customers shopping for other people. A parent shopping for stocking stuffers, for example, might be on the hunt for multiple low-budget items, so provide them with recommendations. Someone buying her brother a new laptop computer might also want to treat him to a laptop travel case.

Since you also want to speed up your retention efforts, a great way to start encouraging a second purchase is to take advantage of your post-purchase transactional emails. Try adding a related products section to the emails you use to deliver receipts, shipping notifications and other purchase information.

Keep your holiday customers year-round

Retaining and maximizing the value of new customers from the holiday season might be more of a challenge, but it’s also well worth it. This is the busiest time of year for your business in terms of new customer acquisition, and the impact these customers can have on your business year-round and long-term renders them worthy of a seasonal retention plan.

Ben Jacobson

Ben Jacobson is a marketing strategy consultant who specializes in content, social media and influencer marketing for B2B firms. He contributes regularly to publications including MarketingLand, Search Engine Journal and the Orbit Media blog.

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