Know Your Numbers: The Dollar-Driven Guide to Holiday Emails

Believe it or not, the end of summer means that our commerce clients are fully in the throes of holiday season planning, and with that planning has come an influx of questions about best practices for emailing during the holiday season. To best address these questions, we decided to let the numbers speak for themselves!

More specifically, we analyzed over 4.2 billion emails sent by our commerce clients in 2012 and 2013 to distill trends around which holidays drive the greatest return (read: dollars!) in terms of email marketing.

To do this, we examined 3 key metrics:

  • Open Rate – the thought process here went something like, “people complain about getting emails on Christmas day – but do they open those emails?”
  • Revenue per Open – how valuable was any given email open?
  • Revenue per 1,000 Emails Sent (RPM) – How much money is made for every thousand emails deployed? This metric is a balancing act for the first two figures (e.g. if open rate is very low but revenue per open is high, is quality enough to offset the deficit in quantity)?
From there, we compared the RPM metric against an “average” day; in other words, if we were looking at Cyber Monday, we compared its RPM against all non-holiday Mondays in a given year. To keep things interesting, we included all of the federal holidays as well as select “Hallmark” holidays.

holiday stats graph

Full results are in the table, but here are some notable highlights:

  • Generally speaking, open rates are materially lower on holidays than non-holidays, but the value of any given open will often be stronger on holidays vs. non.
  • Not surprisingly, Cyber Monday proved the most valuable in terms of RPM; interestingly, Valentine’s Day was a close second.
  • In terms of lift overall versus an average day, Thanksgiving weekend (the Saturday and Sunday after the holiday), proved most compelling for email marketing with a 129% improvement over the typical weekend. New Year’s Eve showcased the most marked decline vs. a typical day.
  • There are several holidays/holiday weekends where retailers will see a major decline vs. average non-holiday days; in these instances, even sales cannot adequately buffer the engagement and conversion gaps.
  • December (well, pre-Christmas December) is a powerful month across the board, but 12/1-12/14 – which included much of Hanukkah last year – proved more valuable than 12/15-12/21 ($23.59 RPM vs. $20.88), so start those campaigns early!
  • The final days leading up to Christmas present the worst possible times to reap immediate benefits from email marketing (probably because it’s often too late to guarantee holiday arrivals!).

These results will obviously vary from business to business, but our hope is that these aggregate findings will be helpful from a directional perspective. As always, we recommend marketers conduct their own congruent analysis and urge them to focus on real value and conversion versus top-of-funnel metrics such as opens or clicks.