Holiday Head Start: A High-Impact Guide to Building a Foundation for Black Friday This Summer

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, a time when everything just feels more fun. Work is slower. People are more likely to go on vacation and throw parties. Northerners can head to the beach, blissfully forgetting what their breath looks like.

As an individual, you’re probably excited for the summer. But as a retailer, you know it’s the calm before the storm.

July is when most retailers begin planning for the most wonderful — and crucial — time of the year. During the holidays, retailers can make up to 40% of their annual sales. Bluecore’s retail strategists have previously worked at brands like Target, Tory Burch, Foot Locker, Champs Sporting Goods,, and Rent the Runway. They’ve been in your shoes and as a result, they know exactly how important the summer months are.

Summertime is great for shoppers because it seems like one major sale after the next. Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends can always be counted on for great deals, while Prime Day has joined the ranks of Cyber Weekend in just nine years. And then there’s back to school shopping, which eMarketer projects will generate $81 billion in sales.

It may be tempting to jump on the bargain bandwagon, but that’d be short-sighted. Instead of putting your strategy on summer break, we recommend retailers use this time to focus and get a headstart on the holidays. By ironing out your strategy early and testing any tactic you may be considering, you’ll learn what works best in time to scale.

That way, you’ll have a strong holiday season while setting a foundation for long-term profitable growth: the ultimate goal of customer movement.

Customer movement is the practice of understanding customer value and using signal-based strategies to move shoppers from unknown to known; non-buyers to new buyers; one-time buyers to repeat, and eventually loyal, customers; and lapsed to reactivated buyers. This effort compounds over time and will be the key to a successful holiday season, starting during the summer.

Increase your identification rate to prepare for the holidays

Because summer shopping events tend to involve a lot of promotions, you’ll likely see plenty of new shoppers on your website. That gives you an opportunity to put your best foot forward, creating tailored experiences to nurture those new relationships. However, you can only do that if you know who those shoppers are.

Identity is the engine that powers customer movement. Without shopper identification, it’s impossible to move someone through the lifecycle. Shopper identification is measured by identification rate, or the percentage of site visitors you can identify by an attribute, such as an email address or phone number, and tie back to a unified customer profile.

The more you prioritize increasing your identification rate now, the higher it’ll be by the holidays. One way to figure out who shoppers are is to simply ask them. Entry capture campaigns, such as pop-ups or other interactive elements that collect data as soon as new shoppers enter your site, are an easy way to grow your list and learn who people are. Similarly, exit capture campaigns can be used to identify shoppers who have browsed or carted an item but seem to be moving toward inactive.

Bluecore pro-tip: Create multiple modals that differentiate site visitors. If you show everyone the same entry capture, you risk annoying those shoppers who have already signed up. 

Capitalize on the quiet with testing and experimentation

The weather may be hot, but the season is not. And that’s a great thing. Outside of January and February, the summer months tend to be the slowest for retailers, which makes them the perfect time to blueprint your holiday strategy.

Are there any tactics you’ve been looking to experiment with? Any engagement drivers you’ve been curious about? The optimal time to try them out is now, while the stakes are low. Think of the summer as your sandbox. Test everything so you don’t dig yourself into a hole during the holidays, when you’ll have much less room for error.

Start by letting your data do the talking. Understanding the health of your customer file will help construct your test plan and where your biggest opportunities lie.

Looking holistically at our average order value, orders per buyer, tenure, purchase frequency, and retention rates give you a starting point. If your customers buy often, you’ll want to focus on acquisition to drive more of them. But if people tend to drop off after the first purchase, tactics that drive retention should be your main focus during the holidays.

Bluecore pro-tip: If you’re a Bluecore customer, reach out to your Customer Success Manager! The team is already working on their high-impact holiday strategy recommendations. If not, you can contact us here so we can work together to construct a plan.

Engage with the disengaged to activate seasonal shoppers

Bluecore data shows that 74% of a retailer’s customers are one-and-dones, people who make their first purchase and then disappear. Once you have an understanding of your customer file, you can identify exactly who yours are. The holidays bring in plenty of seasonal shoppers. By re-engaging yours early, you can get them back into the purchase cycle earlier. That can drive incrementality now while also priming these shoppers to keep your brand top of mind later, when they’re inundated with holiday messaging.

Use what you know about your seasonal shoppers — products shopped, whether they bought full price or discounted, the channels where they engaged — to create the most relevant messaging. Category affinity is a good winback campaign in this case. You’re leveraging your shopper’s preferences to remind them what appealed to them about your brand in the first place while also expanding their use case consideration. Broadening horizons is important during the summer as so many holiday shoppers are looking for gifts.

Reactivated shoppers are a hidden gem within your customer file. Our customer-led growth benchmarks found that they spend 12.7% more than new buyers.

Bluecore pro-tip: Re-engage your lapsed customers sooner rather than later. If you get them back on your active list early enough, they’ll get all your holiday emails.

Drill down on your differentiators for Prime Day

Prime Day has become a massive shopping event, generating even more ecommerce sales than Cyber Monday last year. While many retailers have started doing their own sales in tandem, that’s likely a losing battle. Nobody is going to out-promote Amazon, especially on Prime Day. Instead of trying to compete head to head, you should lean into what sets your brand apart. 

If you have a strong loyalty program, you may consider a special savings event for its members. That will make your VIP customers feel special and appreciated, and may also inspire others to join. If you don’t have a loyalty program, you can also bundle products rather than offer straight discounts. Because back to school shopping is big in the summer, a home goods brand can curate dorm room collections, for example.

Focusing on services, an area where Amazon lags, can also set your brand apart, both on Prime Day and in general. These vary from one brand to the next, but examples include personal shopping, tailoring, fit guides, or in-store exchanges and curbside pickup options for retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence. Ultimately, you want to highlight and expose the value of shopping with your brand.

Bluecore pro-tip: Creating a long-term savings event — spend today to save on a future purchase, for example — can help motivate repeat purchases and cement loyalty in advance of the holidays.

Merchandise to the moment – and take the time to connect

Between vacations and outdoor activities, people do different things during the summer. That means they need different things. By leaning into that and merchandising to the moment, you can anticipate those needs as opposed to being reactive.

Apparel retailers can make this happen by creating seasonal shops or wardrobes for specific events. Think Fourth of July or even something less specific, like festivals. Similarly, beauty brands can showcase sweat-proof products or those with SPF. The idea is to think of different ways to spin existing products so they feel new and drive interest. That gives you a chance to get creative with product recommendations. You may not sell camping gear, but with the right product blocks, you can still showcase outfits that would work for a hike.

If you only reach out to say, “Buy buy buy!” shoppers will likely say goodbye. Content-based sends are a good way to add additional value and balance your marketing. This is an area where user-generated content really shines. Rather than share beach looks with product recommendations, you can share inspiration from your experts and community of fans — which can help create more of them.

Bluecore pro-tip: Leverage shopper behavior for retargeting (including from any new specialty shop pages), but be flexible about it. Rather than repeatedly showing someone the item they browsed, try retargeting them with something comparable or complementary.

Think big picture with perks and discounting tactics

Sales are a summer staple. Take back to school for example. Many retailers view it as a major shopping event that needs promotions to entice shoppers. We recommend reframing and thinking of it as more of a return to routine, when people buy new things for a new season. 

Discounting can erode your margins in the long run when not executed strategically. If you offer 20% in every other email, shoppers will come to expect that and tune you out for anything less. That can be a slippery slope, especially since some shoppers would have converted at full price. As you manage expectations and give shoppers a sense of your overall promotion strategy, lean into discount affinity. 

Understanding the type of offer that motivates individual shoppers can motivate higher spend and frequency. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a discount; free shipping is enough for some people. You can also incentivize sales with a “buy more, save more” deal or offer free shipping on a specific cart threshold. If you have subscription offers, that can also be a great promotion. By converting new subscribers, you’re able to start building retention before the holidays.

Bluecore pro-tip: Create additional layers of personalization by incorporating shoppers’ individual affinities into your triggers. If someone with a strong discount affinity carts an item that goes on sale, be sure to let them know.

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