Holiday Ideas & Strategies

Shopping as Unusual: How to Increase Holiday Sales in 2020

Tomas Laurinavicius / 12 min read
Increase holiday sales


For more expert advice, download our 2020 Holiday Guide.


Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve are the trifecta of most profitable holidays for retailers.

2020, however, is bringing in a mixed bag of excitement, anxiety, and high hopes for the holiday season.

Despite consumers’ reduced appetite for shopping across an array of product categories (footwear, jewelry, formalwear) and newly found affinity towards others (online groceries, PJs, and electronics), in Q2-Q3, the global retail sales volumes are finally climbing as we roll into the holiday season. Between November 2020 and January 2021, retail sales are projected to increase by 1% to 1.5% (compared to the same period last year) and reach $1.15 billion, according to Deloitte.

During the 2020-2021 holiday season, ecommerce sales are expected to grow by 25% to 35%.

That’s the good and the bad news.

With more small businesses online and eager to recuperate their offset profits, this year’s competition for online shoppers will be as tough as it gets.

How the 2020 Holiday Sales Season Will Be Different

Despite the unsavory year (or perhaps because of it), 51% of consumers still plan to treat themselves and others to some indulgences.

1. Gifting will be different.

Most customers will prioritize physical gifts over experience-driven ones, unlike the previous year. Virtual gifts (subscriptions, gift certificates, store cards, digital products) are also among trending gift ideas.

2. Holiday budgets are down.

The majority (59%) of US shoppers plan to spend $300 or less on gifts this year. Only 19% plan to drop more than $500. For comparison, last year 25% of consumers spent $500 or above on gifts.

The overall attitude toward shopping remains conscious:

Increase holiday sales

Source: eMarketer

3. Corporate responsibility is under scrutiny.

Most expect brands to acknowledge what’s still happening around the world and become more transparent around their workplace practices, employee safety, and contributions towards the communities where they operate. According to Accenture:

  • 57% of consumers would be inspired to shop with companies that supported their staff and customers during the pandemic.
  • 41% of consumers plan to boycott retailers who recently laid off their staff or reduced benefits.

Balancing all these major shifts in consumer behaviors with increased online competition won’t be easy. But still doable with the right holiday marketing strategy in place.

4 Quick and Effective Promotional Strategies to Increase Holiday Sales

One in five small retailers is dependent on this holiday season to recuperate the cash losses due to mandatory shutdowns. Selling out for them is a strategic priority. Bigger online stores are in somewhat better financial positions, but still highly dependent on returning and new buyers.

To kickstart your holiday campaign planning, consider the next four promotional strategies. All of them offer a good mix of investment versus revenue generation for both the small and bigger folks.

1. Run a giveaway

The holiday season is all about sharing the joy. Giveaways play along nicely with that feeling of generosity. This year, however, you may want to put a different twist on your promo strategies — the socially-conscious one.

“The pandemic has reinforced the call for social consciousness and transparency that we’ve been witnessing over the past few years” – Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey 2020

In the light of recent happenings (major retail worker lay-offs, substandard health measures for remaining employees, etc), consumers are getting more selective with where they leave their dollars. Show that your ecommerce brand stands by the right values — transparency, community support, sustainability, and ethical employee treatment — by hosting a creative contest around a good cause. For example:

  • Offer to donate a % from each sale to a local charity.
  • Match each customer entry with a $1 donated to a good cause.
  • Host a choose-what-you-pay contest, allowing customers to select a price tier for promo products.
  • Encourage giveaway shares by matching referral entries with an extra donation.

Natori, for example, has a year-round donation program set on their website. Customers can choose to donate 1% from every purchased item to a charity of their choice:


Increase holiday sales


You can set up a similar seasonal campaign using ShoppingGives — a donation service that seamlessly integrates with BigCommerce.

2.  Provide loyal customers with unique discounts

Promos and discounts are among the top factors influencing holiday purchases. Considering that most consumers are still in the ‘save, rather than splurge’ state of mind, most will hunt for good deals.

Play in line with that mood and treat your loyal customers with personalized coupon codes. In fact, 49% already expect brands to always send personalized promotions in line with their preferences, per Deloitte.

Try some of the following ecommerce discount code ideas this holiday season:

  • Send discounts for recently browsed, saved, or placed in the cart products.
  • Personalize discounts based on loyalty status.
  • Use location data to provide hyper-personalized local deals.
  • Offer tiered discounts for each repeat purchase.
  • Pitch a free personalized gift for different spending caps.

Jeni’s ice cream, for example, treated all holiday shoppers last year with an extra $20 gift card for every $100 spent on gift cards with them.

Increase holiday sales

3.  Create a sense of urgency with discount countdowns

Countdown timers trigger FOMO feelings among consumers. Also, they build up a sense of scarcity, forcing our brain to want the fleeing thing before it’s gone. German researchers found that a feeling of scarcity makes us auto-rate in-demand products as more attractive. And we rate luxury products more favorably if they are scarce due to limited supply.

Here’s how you can put that bit of knowledge into action:

  • Use countdown timers in email marketing to promote short-term discounts for high-value, signature products. Keeping these sales semi-private helps prevent brand dilution. At the same time, you can still get a boost in online sales.
  • Feature countdown banners on your website for the most in-demand products (or ones you wish to position as such). Placing a timer next to every product reminds shoppers that the time is running up soon so that they are more likely to proceed with the checkout (instead of hoarding products in the cart). Note: if a timer next to each product makes your website look messy, add a sticky header banner atop of your website.

4.  Give first-time buyers a reason to return

With supply chains still disrupted, a lot of consumers are keen to discover new brands. If your company came on their radar during holidays, direct some extra effort at entertaining and retaining them. After all, a 5% increase in customer retention can drive up profits by 25% to 95%.

So how can you entice new customers to return? Try this:

  • Get them on your loyalty program: Loyalty programs help move customers up the buying ladder, increase repeat business, and foster deeper emotional connections. Prompt subscription during check-out and sweeten the deal for first-time shoppers with a quick discount for second purchase.
  • Pitch a subscription offer: Subscription boxes offer a recurring revenue stream — a nice-to-have option in times of uncertainty. Perhaps this is why 75% of DTC brands plan to have a subscription-based offering by 2023. Compound this with the fact that one in five consumers tried a new subscription box during the pandemic and the conclusion is rather clear: starting a subscription is good for ecommerce businesses and for their customers too.
  • Excell the product delivery: Salesforce estimates that some 700 million gifts may not arrive on time this year due to congested last-mile delivery. At the same time, 56% of consumers say that they will not have repeat business with a retailer after a bad delivery experience. So test your shipping strategy before the holiday season to ensure that you can be there on time. Timely and positive delivery experience instills greater confidence in your brand and encourages repeat purchases.

On-page Optimization Strategies to Increase Conversion Rates

With most holiday shopping happening online this year, your ecommerce website must be up to it’s best. By using the next strategies, you’ll ensure that you are delivering the best holiday shopping experience to every visitor.

1.  Optimize for mobile

Consumers spent over $50 billion via mobile devices during the 2019 holiday season, according to Adobe Digital Holiday Recap 2019. $2.9 billion of mobile commerce sales were made during Black Friday and $3 billion on Cyber Monday. Apparel, footwear, jewelry, and cosmetics were among the most-shopped mobile categories.

The mobile shopping trend will remain strong this year too. So make sure that you deliver the best experience for on-the-go shoppers:

  • Run a Google Mobile-Friendly test and make the suggested optimizations.
  • Personalize shipping estimates/product availability based on the customer’s location.
  • Use above the fold area to highlight the sweetest deals.
  • Enable dynamic page serving to improve website speed.
  • Remove pop-ups and sidebars for mobile users as they add friction.
  • Pre-fill customer details during check-out to avoid mistakes.
  • Offer guest users to email their shopping list to finish shopping on the desktop.
  • Add support for Apple Pay/Google Pay, PayPal One Touch to speed up the checkout.

Learn more about designing a delightful mobile shopping experience from our previous post.

2.  Display security icons at checkout

Card-not-present fraud is rampant with a surged adoption of online shopping. Show that shopping with you is safe by placing security icons and trust badges at the check-out forms.

One eye-tracking study found ecommerce shoppers pay a lot of attention and recall security badges during checkout. Also, the participants confirmed that seeing trust badges increased their sense of security during check-out — prompting them to finish their purchase.

Increase holiday sales

Source: CXL

3.  Optimize pop-ups, forms, and website messaging

Website micro-copy — button names, call-to-actions, forms, and pop-ups — often get overlooked during seasonal content re-optimization. Shamefully so as it’s the small details that add an extra feeling of delight and prompt conversions.

Most ecommerce business owners can’t run multiple A/B tests during the holiday campaigns to optimize every crevice of their website. So choose your priorities:

On-site pop-ups and banners: Give your regular pop-ups a seasonal flair. Change the colors, messaging, and value proposition to better match the seasonal promotion. However, don’t get all too giddy and bury your standard brand voice under the seasonal promo madness. Or you risk putting away some consumers.

Keep your seasonal messaging and offers aligned with your regular brand personality. Last year, Skullcandy maintained their sleek brand look during holiday sales but opted for a clever on-brand promo copy for their homepage banner to draw attention to current discounts.

Increase holiday sales

Billing & shipping forms: These two forms are the most error-prone, and oftentimes confusing for the customer. Make the job easier for everyone by:

  • Pre-filling the details for repeat customers.
  • Auto-checking shipping address for validity.
  • Providing a drop-down list of street addresses based on zip code.
  • Displaying service messages about shipping times and possible delays.
  • Adding tooltips to form fields that may steer confusion.
  • Placing extra microcopy to explain what data you need (e.g. shipping address must match credit card address).

On-page CTAs: Call-to-actions are the trickiest to optimize. Try testing new variations several weeks before the campaign launch. To do that:

  1. Add a heatmap tool to your homepage and several product pages to analyze which website elements trigger visitors’ attention.
  2. Create several call-to-action variations for those elements. Write more explanatory button texts e.g. “request pricing” instead of “request quote” or “Pay later” instead of “Pay with Klarna”. Try changing product descriptions too. Add more product features, infuse more personality into your writing, test several new ecommerce copywriting formulas.
  3. Run a series of A/B tests to benchmark the performance of new elements versus the old ones. Scale what works. Ditch what doesn’t.

Treat Customers to the Best Holiday Commerce Experience

Holiday shopping can be whimsically wonderful or miserably gruesome (especially when done last moment). It’s in your power to decide which experience your customers will get this year. Help them get the best out of their shopping spree(s) by testing the next 6 strategies.

1.  Create holiday gift guides.

The holiday season can be mentally taxing for some shoppers, struggling to find the right gift for an array of people on their list. Reduce their feeling of overwhelm by curating a series of holiday guides, featuring your products.

Get creative and think beyond the standard “For Him/For Her” categories. Pinterest found that last year holiday shoppers were increasingly looking for:

  • Personalized gift ideas
  • Sustainable gift ideas
  • Self-care package gifts
  • Snail-mail gifts
  • Teacher Christmas gift ideas
  • Colleague Christmas gift ideas

Use last year’s shopping customer data to determine which gift categories will work best for your customers. Then set up dedicated holiday landing pages for them and optimize them around relevant search queries. Take a page from Molton Brown that let’s shoppers discover gift suggestions for all sorts of occasions and within their budget:

Increase holiday sales

SEO-optimized holiday guides and product landing pages can drive extra search traffic to your website, plus street the returning customers in the right direction.

2.  Offer free shipping or special deliveries.

Despite store re-openings, 77% of shoppers still want their online purchases delivered to their homes. Salesforce also suggests that home-deliveries will be in the highest demand, but so do store pickups. Retailers offering curbside, inside, and drive-through pick-ups will see a 90% increase in digital sales compared to last season.

Given that last-mile delivery providers will be likely overwhelmed, offering both options is the best way to ensure that all your customers get their orders on time. Di Bruno Bros, for example, is already testing both:

Increase holiday sales

3.  Provide the best customer service.

Proactive solving of your customers’ issues during the holiday season is key to winning them for the long-term.

A Deloitte survey found that three out of five consumers will ditch their favorite brand (one they’ve been with for 3+ years) after a bad customer service interaction.

Also, two out of three won’t buy again from the company if they never received a solution to their complaint.

However, maintaining high service levels during the hectic holiday season is challenging. Between ensuring product stock, timely shipping, and normal website operations, it’s easy to miss some urgent customer queries.

So plan ahead and scale your customer service before the hottest part of the sales season kicks in. Here’s how:

  • Create or update self-help pages, offering a quick resolution to the most frequent customer issues.
  • Add a chatbot to act as a first-line of help, guiding users towards the right answers, and providing basic help.
  • Hire extra people for your CS team to take over online support — live chat, email queries, social media questions.

If you have extra budgets, consider adopting an AI-driven conversational platform to assist with online support. New-gen platforms can pre-write answers to the common customer questions, auto-serve relevant data to agents, and otherwise augment the speed and accuracy of their replies. Intercom, Cognity AI, Twyla, and Bold360 offer intelligent automation solutions for customer support.

4.  Run a holiday social media campaign.

Social media has become an independent shopping avenue with the rise of the shoppable posts. Consumers are hooked, especially the younger ones. Per Salesforce, ,many Gen Zs made a purchase on social media during the pandemic. 

So how do you bridge the gap between inspiration and purchase on social media without dropping too much cash on ads?

Start building your social media audience lists 1-2 months before the holiday season.

This way when the holiday season kicks in, you won’t be burning cash on generic ads marketing to disinterested consumers or people who are not familiar with your brand. Or rub elbows with a ton of other brands pitching similar deals. Experiment with different types of social media posts and ad formats to determine engaged users and perhaps convert some to your email list. Direct most of your efforts to fill your sales funnel with brand-aware and interested prospects.

When November kicks in, get more hands-on, and convert those shoppers with:

  • Offer ads on Facebook.
  • Remarketing ads to visitors/past customers.
  • Shoppable Instagram posts.
  • Time-sensitive promo codes shared in Instagram stories.

5.  Work with micro-influencers.

Influencer marketing can help increase brand awareness during the pre-holiday season. Similar to social ads, you are likely to get the best returns if you:

  • Invest early in early promos for the top of the funnel customers.
  • Carefully select your pool of partnerships.
  • Focus on increasing brand awareness/recall, rather than sales alone.

Last year 90% of marketers said that ROI from influencer marketing was comparable to or better than other marketing channels. The wrinkle, however, is that attributing the exact dollar value to influencer-generated sales isn’t always easy.

Perhaps that’s why a lot of smaller ecommerce brands remain wary of this promo strategy. If you are on the cautious, but curious side in 2020, here’s a good option for you — run a micro-influencer holiday campaign.

Micro-influencers (people with 1,000 to 10,000 followers on social media) usually have highly-engaged audiences around a certain interest group (e.g. skincare, home design, healthy eating, etc). According to a 2019 Holiday Micro-Influencer Marketing Report, negotiating a campaign with the smaller folks can bring in a bevy of benefits:

  • 73% of micro-influencer content outperformed macro-influencer content.
  • 68% of them do not increase prices during the holiday season.

Want to give it a try? Hop on social media and look for conversation-starters in your industry or around your consumer interests. Pay attention to the number of comments and video views above the average number of likes per post to find truly active accounts.

You can also sign up for an influencer marketing platform to get matched with pre-vetted influencers, suggested based on your criteria. Some of the popular ones are Post for Rent, Stellar, and Neoreach.

6.  Send creative cart abandonment emails.

Over 88% of shopping carts get abandoned across all sales categories. During the holiday season, e-tailers can expect this number to go even higher as consumers hunt for deals, shop around, or altogether forget about their earlier intention to shop with your brand.

Get back on their shopping radar by sending a quick email reminder to complete their purchase. And since it’s the holiday season, sprinkle it with some extra topping.

  • Use humor to prompt shopper to complete their purchase
  • Add a small discount for products left in the card
  • Promise a coupon code for the second order with you

Read more about creating attention-grabbing ecommerce cart abandonment emails.

Pitch or Ditch? How to Know Which Tactic Can Actually Increase Your Sales

Given that 2020 was a tough year for most companies, you need to be extra careful with your promo spending. After all, many marketing tricks don’t bring the advertised clicks. To line up the strongest marketing strategies for this year’s campaign, evaluate each one by asking the next questions.

1.  Does it make sense for your target audience?

Throwing in extra cash in TikTok marketing (that’s oh-so-hot right now) won’t make sense if your primary buyers are older Millennials and Gen X types. Use your historical data to drive your decision for this year’s campaign. Specifically, try to gauge:

  • How price-sensitive and discount-driven is your primary audience?
  • How well do they respond to various campaign types?
  • What type of brand experience do they prioritize — faster shipping, free shipping, personalized offers, etc?

A quick email survey can help you collect these nuggets before you go into active marketing mode.

2.  Have you tried it in the past?

Analyze the results of last year’s campaign. Which channels brought it the highest ROI? Did you experience any particular types of complaints e.g. ineffective shipping? Identify several strategies that got you great results and pepper them up with 1-2 new tricks.

3.  Do you have the tools to implement it?

Determine if new tech investments will pay-off. For instance, if your total influencer marketing budget is $1,500, paying a $250 fee to access an influencer marketplace may not be the best choice. However, if you are running a larger campaign with 10-15 participants, a comprehensive platform can save you a lot of time on managing campaigns, plus help ensure that you are partnering with the right peeps for your brand.

4.  Does the tactic cost you money?

While there’s no such thing as absolutely free publicity, some marketing tactics cost you less to execute since you already have the tools, tech, and people to run them. Still, they won’t be completely free if you are reallocating your time from other tasks.

Assess each tactic from the perspective of upfront investment vs possible ROI vs ease of execution. Aim for:

  1. High ROI and very easy to do.
  2. Low upfront investment plus high ROI.

Wrapping Up

You now have a working set of ecommerce marketing strategies to increase your holiday sales. So it’s time to get to work!

Start with the lowest hanging fruits — marketing strategies you’ve already tested and that are still relevant in the current shopping landscape. Add them to your marketing plan for 2020.

Then move on to pre-holiday planning. Determine the discount strategy for different holidays, channels, and customer groups. Review your website and identify which areas need improvements — product descriptions, banners, CTAs, or any other assets. Also, start working on your seasonal content.

Next, decide on your social media strategy for the holidays. Set your budgets, distribute them among different campaign types (ads, influencer marketing, organic content creation). Start running pre-holiday promos to get some new leads to the top of your funnel.

Also, ensure that your CS team is properly staffed and in hot-response mode. Reach out to your shipping partner to ask about the potential delays and organize back-up/alternative logistics.

Lastly, don’t postpone your planning any further. Take one of the strategies from this guide and start acting on it now!

Want more insights like this?

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Tomas Laurinavicius

Researcher and Writer

Tomas Laurinavicius is a co-founder of Content Writing Jobs, lifestyle blogger, content marketing consultant, and BigCommerce researcher from Lithuania. He writes about lifestyle design, productivity, and entrepreneurship on his blog and lifestyle design newsletter.

View all posts by Tomas Laurinavicius

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