Personalization is even more crucial during the holidays than during the rest of the year. Not only are your regular customers shopping, but they’re on a deadline. They’re going to buy, so it’s imperative to make sure they buy from you. And for most retailers, the holiday season also brings in a wave of new customers who aren’t that familiar with your brand. This is your chance to convert them to loyal brand enthusiasts.

Personalization can also be a bit trickier during the holiday season. Customers are shopping for other people as well as themselves, so their usual preferences and browsing habits may not apply.

With so much to consider, we recommend that brands adopt a slightly different personalization strategy during this ultra-busy time.

Where to Start and the Recommendations You Need

Start with personalized send time. This is the failsafe tactic that absolutely every brand should be using. If a customer routinely sifts through her email at noon, you want your message to show up at 11:45, not at 2 pm. No matter how relevant and carefully-crafted your message, it won’t have any impact if it’s buried in a sea of unopened email. (If you’re a Sailthru customer, personalized send times can be added to any campaign with one-click!)

After personalized send time has been established, it’s time to take a look at other recommendation strategies. If you maintain historical data, a full year’s history, or even six months’ worth, may not accurately reflect the potential of the holiday season, or give you the best basis on which to make recommendations. Instead, try isolating just the November data to better understand what the holiday season might look like, and which opportunities are best for your customer and your brand.

Then, all retailers can use this series of recommendations strategies to appeal both to loyal customers and those new to the brand–whether they’re buying for themselves or for someone else.


Holiday shoppers are known to respond well to “best sellers,” “favorites,” and “most popular” designations. So don’t disappoint them! Make sure you showcase the products most likely to convert first-time shoppers, as well as hits from last holiday season and solid repeat performers.


Every holiday season has its product trends, and everyone likes to be the person who gives the perfect of-the-moment gift. ‘Trending’ recommendations will appeal to customers who are stuck, frustrated, and can’t figure out exactly what to buy.

What’s New

Your repeat customers are probably already familiar with much of your inventory. So it’s especially important to keep these shoppers informed about new items and those that are unique to the holiday season. Of course, “What’s New” items also give you yet another chance to tempt those who are new to your brand.

Collaborative filtering

Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you know what collaborative filtering is. These are the recommendations that start, “If you like this, you may also like…” or “People who bought your item also bought…” Spruce up these tried-and-true recommendations with clever copy that highlights your brand’s personality.

Wishlist Lookalikes

Wishlists are one of the most popular digital shopping features requested by customers. According to the National Retail Federation, 63 percent of shoppers want retailers to offer online wishlists. Sure, wishlists are handy for shoppers and gift-buyers. But even better? They give retailers a unique opportunity to make recommendations, based on a list of products that customer has clearly designated as being of interest – even if they haven’t purchased them or even browsed for them lately.  

Gift guides

Retailers that produce holiday gift guides should look for other ways to highlight those same products. It makes sense to incorporate them into recommendations, whether they appear in email, onsite, in-app, or mobile.

Abandoned cart campaigns

Messages reminding customers of items they’ve placed in their carts – but not yet purchased – present a prime opportunity to make recommendations. Maybe the item in the cart isn’t exactly what the shopper is looking for, or maybe the shopper is on the fence for some other reason. Either way, an additional recommendation, made within the abandoned cart message, gives the brand another chance to present the customer with an item they’ll get excited about.

Transactional cross-selling

Transactional emails tend to get very high open rates. So while you’ve got your customer’s attention, why not present them with other items they might like? Order confirmations, shipping confirmations, and other transactional emails are a great venue for cross-selling, discovery, and engagement.