Retail Holiday Offer Fatigue

Throughout holiday shopping seasons past, the words “Only”, “Exclusive”, “Free Shipping”, “Final Hours”, and even “20% Off” in subject lines would have most certainly caught our attention and lead to us to open the email to review a retailer’s holiday offer. We knew that the deals really were for a limited time and that there was a good chance that we might not see them again until the last days leading up to Christmas (when it would cost a heavy premium to have the gifts arrive by December 24th and, therefore in theory, cancel out the “savings”).

This year, there has been virtually a non-stop string of retail holiday offers from a wide range of online retailers. While I appreciate all the opportunities to save on my gift buying, both my business and personal inboxes are suffering from excess email volume and offer fatigue from the altogether too many mailings that are consistently being sent from online stores. There is no way around the fact that the buying for the 2011 holiday season was done based on a forecast of much improved economic conditions and the hopeful release of pent up demand.  We all thought the worst was going to be behind us by now!

It’s understandable that many retailers feel the need to use every play in their promotional playbook to move their holiday season inventory out the door. However, repeatedly blasting the same mass “offer du jour” via email, Facebook and Twitter results in a lot of unwanted noise and weakens the potential impact of the overall quality of dialogue with store customers.

It is extremely rare that all customers have exactly the same value to a given brand.  Yet, in many cases, retail brands send everyone the same message. A well-crafted mass message might be helpful in terms of turning prospects into customers, but it certainly doesn’t do much to make loyal customers feel special. Over- or mis-communicating with customers can actually turn them against your brand in the long run and, at an absolute minimum, it can get in the way of generating an incremental sale.

If there were such an achievement as a “black belt” in both catalog and online shopping, I would have earned it many years ago. It takes a lot to entice me to buy more once I’ve already made a purchase because I plan things out pretty carefully. Two of my favorite specialty retailers, Bare Necessities and the MoMA Store, impressed me with how they each managed to generate an incremental 2011 holiday sale from me after I had already placed an order with them – within one month of my original purchase.

As a former Manhattanite, I have long been a fan of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and visit it whenever I can.  Over the years, they have expanded their always fabulous museum store to several locations in New York City, as well as ecommerce stores in the U.S., Japan and Korea.  This summer, I became a National/International Member in large part to receive the 10% Members discount on purchases from the fabulous MoMA Stores and I made my first purchase in late October when I received an email for a flash sale of 40% off a group of holiday catalog items which could be combined with my 10% Member discount and saved a bundle (admittedly many items were not gifts but cool items for our home). In addition to this every day discount, they offer seasonal “Member Shopping Days” with 20% off. MoMA does not tell you precisely when these double discount days will occur, but they do send out postcards in advance to alert you when they are coming up. Soon thereafter, I received a postcard alerting me to those days with email reminders every day they were in effect.  I made another even larger purchase on Cyber Monday (this time mostly gifts) due to a one-day free shipping offer.  I even got a bounce-back holiday offer in my shipment box to save $10 off my next order of $100 or more before Christmas.

After I got another postcard with additional Member Shopping Days, I was tempted to make a third purchase because it could be combined with a special “Free Shipping with a $75 or more purchase” (actually duplicating the Cyber Monday offer but who knew there would be another chance?!). My already strained gift budget did not allow me to justify yet another purchase – especially since it would’ve consisted of “gifts” for me! All in all, MoMA did a great job of extracting as many dollars as possible out of my bank account while doing a nice job of keeping the communications at a pleasant level.

Bare Necessities sells fine designer intimate apparel to fit a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They had a rich Pre-Black Friday holiday offer that I could not resist – 25% off and free standard shipping. Alas, this too was a purchase for me, but underwear and lingerie are pretty personal and therefore not something I tend to give to others.

Within about ten days of receiving my order, I got a very tasteful direct mail piece with a special “VIP” offer of 30% off my next order placed by December 24th. I racked my brain to think of how I might use it, because I knew it was a killer deal especially since it could be combined with the “no limit” free standard shipping that was in effect. It then occurred to me that I needed more gifts for my 20 year-old daughter and she would appreciate something nice from Once again, I made another unplanned purchase… with absolutely no regrets, based solely on the retail holiday offer!

Here is some free advice as our gift to all brands at the end of the trying year to help better shape customer communications in the future:

  1. Respect (and use) email preference data to reduce the possibility of over-communicating
  2. Avoid communicating more than one offer per channel per day
  3. To reduce brand communication clutter and increase impact, disseminate key retail holiday offers with plenty of separation from non-essential communications (newsletters, announcements, etc.) to help them stand out
  4. Let lapsed customers know you miss them and give them an offer to entice them to return
  5. Whenever possible or appropriate, give your best or active customers an extra perk that non-customers are not eligible for
  6. If a customer has just made a purchase, either give them a bounce-back offer to help trigger an incremental purchase or consider reducing the frequency of your mailings to them for a period of time

Cheers to a more prosperous 2012 for everyone – and relevant retail holiday offers!