Sailthru’s Guide to Product Recommendations This Holiday Season

Few things encapsulate the phrase “small but mighty” quite like the holidays. The season may only last about five weeks, but it has an outsize impact on retailers’ bottom lines. When Sailthru surveyed senior retail marketers, we found that 58% expect the holidays to account for 21-50% of their annual revenue. Every year, holiday spending is greater than the year before, while marketers ramp up their messaging. Cutting through the clutter becomes both more challenging and more crucial, and product recommendations are a great way to do it.

Last year, the National Retail Federation found that more than half of holiday shoppers purchased an item recommended by a retailer. Product recommendations are a hallmark of personalized marketing. Recommendations are part of online shopping’s DNA, helping consumers navigate thousands of items while finding both what they’re looking for and what they didn’t even know they needed yet.

However, they’re also a bit more complicated during the holidays, when people aren’t just shopping for themselves. What’s more, the holidays tend to bring out new business; according to our survey, retailer marketers’ mix of holiday shoppers was 64% repeat and 32% new customers. You may not know them well enough to give the most relevant recommendations yet, nor will you necessarily be able to spot the anomalies in their shopping habits.

Still, there are plenty of opportunities to make great product recommendations. Here are eight of our favorite strategies:

Best Sellers

What are your best sellers? How about those from last year? These classic recommendations instill customer confidence. Highlight them, along with your products best known for converting first-time customers. And if your customer experience is great enough, those new shoppers may even by loyalists by FebruaryTory Burch does this well, with a single beautiful, eye-catching image and just a few words. Though it’s short and sweet, Tory Burch’s copy manages to creates a sense of exclusivity and timeliness.

Product Recommendations - Tory Burch

Trending Items

What do Connect 4, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Echo Dot have in common? They’re all included in the ranks of most popular gifts on Amazon, a website tab that’s updated every day based on product popularity. Every holiday season has its trending items. They’re a great foundations for product recommendations, especially for those shoppers who don’t know exactly what they want to buy.

Product recommendations- Amazon

New Arrivals

Centering product recommendations on new arrivals is a great extension of your segmentation strategy. These items can catch new customers’ eyes, while increasing engagement for existing customers. It’s likely your VIPs already know what’s hot; show them what’s new to keep them shopping during the holidays. Few brands do recommendations as well as Sephora, the first-place finisher on both of our Retail Personalization Indexes. New arrivals are front and center on the beauty giant’s website, right underneath the trending holiday items. Some of the new items even fit in with the above holiday theme; the gingerbread spice eye shadow palette contains shades such as Spiked Eggnog, Frostbite Me, and Reindeer Paws.

Product recommendations - Sephora

Wishlist Lookalikes

Have you ever written a letter to Santa Claus or met him at the mall? Wishlists have always been a staple of the holidays, except as adults, we make them online, communicating these desires directly to retailers instead. Wishlists provide data to the retailers about what people want. That data can also fuel future recommendations. MATCHESFASHION.COM impressed us with their wishlist strategy last year, creating a sense of exclusivity and an early demand for products.

Product recommendations- MATCHESFASHION.COM

Gift Guides

Another staple of the holidays: gift guides. On the surface level, they’re typically full of beautiful images. They’re also chock full of potential product recommendations and we love the way REI is doing it this year. Much like the outdoor retailer’s mobile strategy, which involves a whole ecosystem of apps with their own unique value proposition, gift guides are categorized by activity, price point and popularity. They’re further segmented depending on if you’re shopping for him or her, just looking for a stocking stuffer.

Product recommendations- REI

Collaborative Filtering

Also known as “those who bought this also bought that,” collaborative filtering is similar to making recommendations based on what’s trending. However, there’s a more personalized twist, as your activity ultimately dictates these recommendations. Collaborative filtering is a must for department stores, with their seemingly endless inventories. For example, Bloomingdale’s website sells 572 different pairs of men’s jeans, which can be filtered by best sellers, fit, wash and brand, among others. Once a customer clicks a pair he likes, the retailer lets him know what similar browsers bought, including both comparable and complementary items.

Product recommendations- Bloomingdale's

Product Recommendations in Abandoned Cart Emails

About 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned, which means every retailer has to have a solid strategy here. We recommend starting within a few hours, highlighting urgency and inventory limitations. The next message in your stream should be more proactive, like Express does here. The retailer stresses urgency while recommending similar products to those in the customer’s cart. Incentivizing free shipping rather than a discount is also a nice touch.

Product recommendations- Express

Triggered Cross-Selling

Emails containing order and shipping confirmations have sky high open rates. Capitalize on that by cross-selling. Include recommendations in these emails to facilitate further discovery and conversion, driving incremental holiday revenue in the meantime. This Zappos email could have just said, “Your order has shipped” and left it at that. However, the footwear retailer took advantage of a guaranteed-to-be-opened email, recommending both related and popular products.

Product Recommendations - Zappos


Looking for more inspiration this season? Check out our 2018 Holiday Marketing Guide here.

Looking Fashion Forward: 5 Best Practices for Fashion + Apparel Retailers

Increasing Revenue from Email:

The Definitive Strategy Guide for Fashion, Apparel and Specialty Retail Brands

Download Now