November is a highly anticipated time for retailers and avid shoppers alike, with four of the biggest shopping events offering incredible deals and huge sales all happening within the space of one month. Click Frenzy, Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday all continue to grow in popularity each year, and with an ever-increasing number of brands taking part, retailers must put their best foot forward to attract customers and make the most of these major events in the ecommerce calendar.

Like the rest of 2020, this year’s sale season is shaping up to be unlike any other due to the impact COVID-19. Lockdowns, forced closures and reduced spending overall have meant many retailers have had to fight tooth and nail to remain relevant to customers, therefore it’s more important than ever that they know how to optimise their marketing strategies, improve the customer experience, and drive sales during this critical month.

One area where retailers would do well to focus their efforts is their email marketing strategy. According to DMA’s Marketing Email Tracker 2020 report, email is the most cost effective channel for driving consumer traffic, generating $64.47AUD for every $1 spent. More than that, email drives 11% of global retail traffic and accounts for 69% of all returning website traffic – making it a crucial channel to get right.

While November is only a couple of weeks away, it’s not too late for retailers to finetune their strategies to ensure a successful sale season. Here are five important steps you can take:

  1. Monitor your deliverability. It doesn’t matter how persuasive your email is if it doesn’t land in your subscribers’ inbox, therefore ensuring a strong deliverability rate is imperative for campaign success. Current global email volumes are already higher than during last year’s peak sale season due to  email emerging as the marketing channel of choice during the pandemic. And while many retailers have benefitted from list growth of up to 50% due to traditionally offline shoppers being forced online, the record levels of email activity we’re set to see next month are going to make maintaining good deliverability and engagement much harder for retailers across the board.

    To maintain strong deliverability during sale season, you’ll need to monitor email marketing metrics including inbox placement, sender score and list hygiene. This will provide you with a baseline to measure against and improve on and help you to identify areas that can be strengthened. Everest is one program that can provide you with these insights into the effectiveness of your campaign.

  2. Remove unknown and inactive users. Before you invest time and resources in creating and sending a polished email marketing campaign, proactively remove unknown, suspicious or inactive email addresses from your database to protect your sender reputation. Mailbox providers such as Gmail and Outlook use sender reputation to determine which emails are granted access to the inbox, how they’re ordered, and which end up in the junk folder or are blocked altogether. Using a list validation service like Everest for subscriber email addresses older than one year will help to identify and remove unknown and inactive user addresses from your list. And if you’re nervous about removing unknown users during the peak shopping period, remember that these emails aren’t attached to a subscriber, so there’s no value in retaining them, but they do have a potentially significant negative impact on your interactions with genuine subscribers.

  3. Warm up your IP (even if it is a current active IP!) before you increase the volume of emails over the next month. For a high-volume email marketing campaign, you might go from sending emails to 5,000 subscribers a week to sending emails to 100,000 subscribers each day. A sudden dramatic increase in outbound emails will alert mailbox providers, and if they think your IP address has been compromised they could block or delay delivery of your emails until they can validate your sender reputation. To avoid this disruption, gradually increase the volume and frequency of outgoing emails in the lead up to your campaign. This will also avoid blasting your subscribers with too many emails too soon, which can cause buyer fatigue and diminished engagement. This is not the right time to plan a major email service provider (ESP) migration or to warm up a brand-new IP either. Delay these activities until after the sale and holiday seasons to maintain consistency and ensure a healthy sender reputation.

  4. Stand out in a crowded inbox. You know that you’re not the only retailer planning to ramp up their email activity in advance of the November sale events, therefore you need to consider how to ensure your emails stand out from your competitors’ in subscribers’ inboxes. The most important factor that persuades subscribers to open their emails is that they recognise the sender. A good way to do this is by implementing Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI), so that your logo displays next to the sender. Senders should also be consistent in their use of “friendly from” — this means adjusting your sender name to read; ‘John Smith from Myer’ as opposed to ‘John Smith’. Also essential is nailing your subject line so that it’s compelling enough to grab subscribers’ attention and to motivate them to open your email.. Testing different subject lines in small batches before going out widely with the strongest is a smart way to do this.

  5. Keep your messages personalised and relevant. With subscribers receiving an increased number of emails during November, they are going to be more selective about which they open than usual. You may have mastered the compelling subject line to entice subscribers to open your email, but if the email itself doesn’t speak to them, they are unlikely to take the desired action. It’s not enough to just add first name personalisation anymore either. Subscribers expect to receive personalised product suggestions and content that relates to and benefits them. If you have customer data like abandoned carts or prior purchases at your disposal, use this information to optimise the personalisation of your communications. The other benefit of personalisation is that it creates greater trust that the emails are not fraudulent, because advanced personalisation requires data that fraudsters are much less likely to have access to.

Given the proven effectiveness of email in driving website traffic and purchases — not to mention that it’s also highly cost-effective channel — a strong email marketing campaign is simply a must for retailers this November if they want to finish the year strong.

Tunc Bolluk is vice president for Asia Pacific at Validity Inc.