Ah, the holidays. The most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time for family and friends, sipping cocoa in front of a fireplace while wondering where Michael Bublé has been for the last 10 months? It’s also the time for so, so many emails.

For many retailers, holiday sales account for half their annual revenue. And those holiday sales keep going up. Consumers plan to spend 4% more this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Winter Trends survey. It’s only natural for retailers to send more emails.

At the same time, that makes inboxes all the more competitive. How can you make sure your messages stand out? Marigold Engage by Sailthru sends millions of emails every single minute (!) and our brilliant Strategy & Optimization team has created a benchmarking tool to quantify them. The team looks across our entire client base and compiles the open, clickthrough, and conversion rates for each email. This system allows us to better identify the best of the best and to pass on key insights to our hundreds of retail clients so they can always be improving their programs.

Tory Burch, Fabletics and Food52 were among last year’s superstars. See what made them shine:

Send a Card Like Tory Burch

Holiday shoppers love a deal and no retailer can make those fourth-quarter numbers without a strong discounting strategy. This email from Tory Burch illustrated that beautifully, offering shoppers $50 gift cards instead of a traditional discount. We love the way Tory Burch made a marketing email seem like a gift, right down to the irresistible subject line. “Our $50 present to you” generated an extraordinarily high open rate because who doesn’t love presents?

Designed to look like a holiday card, the creative on this message fit that theme. The illustration of Tory Burch’s childhood home was especially perfect, given how intertwined Tory Burch the fashion brand is with Tory Burch the fashion designer. Her signature shoe is named after her mother and her boutiques are designed to look like her homes. Naturally, her holiday card-themed email features a personal touch as well.

A few weeks later, Tory Burch sent another email reminding people to use their gift cards, along with a gift guide filled with inspirations for what to use it on. We included that message in our guide, too.

Look to the Future Like Food52

Segmentation is a big part of Food52’s holiday email marketing strategy. The brand separates VIP and regular customers, and content consumers who read the site but have yet to purchase anything. Last holiday season, Food52 worked on converting the latter with a combination of well-targeted emails and predictive analytics. Using Sailthru’s Prediction Manager, Food52 built an audience of those readers predicted to purchase in the following month. Many of them did, thanks to how much people trust Food52’s recommendations.

This email was clean and minimalistic, with just a crisp image in which the promoted travel mug was featured prominently, one witty line of copy and the mug’s high-but-imperfect star rating. That’s a small but important detail, which furthered Food52’s trustworthiness; studies have shown that consumers are skeptical of 5-star reviews. The subject line played into that, too: “The never-spill travel mug we’re all a little obsessed with.”

Surprise and Delight Like Fabletics

People love a good deal and according to neuroscientists, they also love a surprise. Did you know the brain’s pleasure centers reacts more strongly when something is unexpected? It seems Fabletics knew that. A few days before Black Friday, the sportswear retailer promoted an early, but secret, sale for VIP members.

What made it a secret? That whole week, Fabletics highlighted early Black Friday deals, but you had to click through to learn what they were. All the brand gave subscribers to work with was, “Everything you’ve had your eye on is on sale…” The brand wrote that ominous message in aqua, which really popped against the black background. Between that and the fun graphic of a dancing question mark — in color psychology, pink represents playfulness — Fabletics almost dared you to click through.

Download the ebook to see more winning tactics from brands like Beautycounter, Everlane, Alex and Ani, and more!