Post-holiday retention strategy: how to avoid a slow January

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Post-holiday retail is normally a sleepy time. But it doesn’t have to be. 

For many ecommerce merchants, the last few months have been a blur. You’ve most likely splurged on ads, and spent a ton of time and energy acquiring new customers, and converting returning ones. 

But new customer acquisition is becoming increasingly expensive. And especially with the new iOS changes making paid advertising more difficult, your best bet is to leverage the traffic you already have. 

While January may be a slow time in retail, 68% of holiday shoppers plan to continue browsing and buying after the holidays. This means there’s an opportunity to overcome the post-holiday sales slump.

From all your sales over the holidays, you should immediately start nurturing those customer relationships. AKA, prioritize retention marketing. Here’s how:

  1. Retarget customers acquired during the holiday season
  2. Take advantage of a clearance sale
  3. Use seasonality as a sales tool
  4. Promote gift card redemption 
  5. Leverage email automation 
  6. Keep returns in mind
  7. Send replenishment reminders
  8. Invest in a frictionless shopping experience
  9. Promote your loyalty program

Retarget customers acquired during the holiday season

For the last couple of months, you’ve (probably) spent a lot on paid media to attract potential buyers to your site. You’ve probably encouraged quite a bit of them to convert, too. So it can be somewhat disheartening when you learn that many shoppers acquired during the holiday season have a lower lifetime value -  64% of them might never buy from you again.  

But when you consider that it’s five times easier to convert a returning customer than a first time buyer, it might be in your best interest to market to this crowd. Because not only is it easier to convert them, but they spend up to 3x more than one-time customers.

The value of return vivistors

And the more they buy from you, the more likely they are to keep buying from you. 

Chances of someone returning to your store

So it's a missed opportunity if you're not trying to convert these customers. Incentivize them to purchase again by offering special promotions: 

  • Loyalty programs: Invite these customers into a loyalty program, and reward them with extra perks with their next purchase. 

  • High-value, relevant emails: You should have collected a number of new email addresses now that the holidays are finished. Send your email list some extra love during this slow time, giving them high-value content and sharing recent customer reviews to keep up engagement. You could even create a juicy offer solely for your email list. 

  • Social Ads: Retarget holiday shoppers and share user-generated content within your ad set to remind these customers of their experience with your brand.

Take advantage of a clearance sale

No matter how strong your inventory planning skills are, chances are you’ve ended up with excess products after the holiday season. (Hey, it’s better than running out of stock by December 1st, right? 😉)

Why not take advantage of this extra inventory by driving traffic to your site with a clearance sale?

People have gift cards and cash they’ve received as gifts to spend. Running a post-holiday sale is a fantastic way to keep your sales momentum going strong. By setting an end date to the sale, you’ll create a sense of urgency that will compel visitors to buy. 

Use seasonality as a sales tool

Although clearance sales will ease you from your excess inventory, your after-Christmas messaging doesn’t have to focus solely on sales and promotions. 

Winter provides an abundance of opportunities to grow your seasonal sales. Warm clothing and skin care products are in high demand right now. Use this to your advantage!

The entirety of your audience might not be located in the cold, so add some personalization to your site to ensure relevant seasonal promotions appear to all visitors. For example, an apparel company can show Florida shoppers swimsuits on their homepage, while winter jackets appear for those shopping from New York.

A great example of this is Very weather, who personalizes their homepage based on the weather in your current location. 

Very Weather summer weather

Cold Winter Weather Very Weather

Another option is to market to the New Year attitude. While toys or electronics might not be high on the list for some consumers, items that enhance their New Year’s goals are. 

If you have products that boost productivity, cleanliness or that are focused on fitness, now is the time to call them out on your site. 

Promote gift card redemption

The number one requested holiday gift in the United States are gift cards! It’s the no-brainer of gift-giving, and the saving grace of last-minute, panicked shoppers. In 2018, US shoppers spent $160 billion on these hot items. 

Gift cards are great for recipients, but they also have some great benefits for store owners, too. They provide great brand exposure and do wonders for repeat business: 41% of recipients visit a new store because of them, and 72% of recipients make a return trip to that store. Not to mention recipients tend to spend $28 more than the value of their card. 

If you’ve focused your promotional messaging on these hot items, chances are you’ve sold a few during the holiday rush. Since ~27% of shoppers plan to spend their gift cards shortly after Christmas, now is the time to give these recipients a little push to buy. Use your promotional messaging to remind shoppers to use their cards. 

This is especially true if you’ve sold e-gift cards: follow up with recipients by email to remind them of their gift.

Leverage email automation 

On average, 98% of your traffic doesn't buy. But that doesn't mean they’ll never make a purchase.

One of the perks of the holidays is the growth of your email list. With the surge in traffic and sales, you’ve probably seen a nice spike in your subscriber account as well. 

If you haven’t done so yet, welcome these new email subscribers in style. Send friendly and educational emails. Share educational content. Show them why they should buy from you. 

Be consistent, and you can gradually move these visitors down the sales funnel and convince them to buy from you.

Keep returns in mind

Chances are you’ve updated your return policy during the holidays to account for gifts. January is peak season for returns, and you must be prepared to deal with them. 

Keep the return process as simple and quick as possible, and ensure any information consumers are seeking is easily available on your site. Consider offering instant refunds, store credit or automated real-time exchanges to keep customers happy.

The goal is to ensure these customers leave with a pleasant experience, because then they’re more likely to return to buy something else. 

Customers often request a return because they purchased the wrong size. Or perhaps it’s as simple as the color wasn’t what they expected. However, these issues can be fixed with an exchange instead. 

Also, encourage exchanges over returns by doing the following:

  • Let customers know that you offer exchanges and explain how they work. 
  • Extend your exchange policy to the beginning of Q1. You'll help your customer take the plunge because they’ll feel better knowing that they can return the item after the holidays. And highlight this added benefit frequently. 
  • Offer free credits to exchangers. In this case, customers would have to refuse free money from you if they insist on returning.

Keep in mind, exchanging customers will likely have a much higher lifetime value than returners. So this is likely to pay for itself over the long run as they turn into loyal customers.

Send replenishment reminders

Your customers are busy, especially during the holidays, and they might not realize they're about to run out of their cleanser or vitamins. 

Help them by mentioning it’s time to restock an item. 

This is a perfect way to bring back customers who purchased your product for the first time over the holiday season. In the new year, you can send them reminders about when it’s time to restock every few months (or however long your product typically lasts). 

Invest in a frictionless shopping experience

If there’s one thing that makes customers not want to return to a brand, it’s a bad shopping experience. Lack of support and difficulty navigating your site can lead to feelings of frustration.

To avoid seeing a high number of customers leave your site, improve your page speed, customer support, and accessibility.

Page speed

It’s no secret page speed affects conversion rates. Customers won’t stick around on a website that takes too long to load. They’ll drop off at some point during the shopping journey, meaning money left on the table for you. 

In fact, a 1-second delay in page speed time can cut conversions by 7%. If your website is too slow, customers will bounce off of it with no interest in returning. 

It also impacts other factors such as your SEO, bounce rate, mobile experience, and more.

Graph showing six stats about how page speed impacts your conversion rates, SEO, and website performance.

Customer support

89% of companies say that excellent customer service plays a huge role in customer retention, according to Semrush. Especially after BF/CM, during the December holidays, and after, prepare to have more support hands on deck so you can help customers efficiently. And be kind; people are stressed during this season, and a good customer service experience will help you stand out.


Website accessibility involves strategically using design and code to make the content on your online store available for all users. The goal is to remove all accessibility barriers from your website, so persons with disabilities have full and equal access to all of its content. 

Without an accessible website, you’re creating barriers for people who are trying to browse or make a purchase. Those customers are unlikely to return in the future.

Promote your loyalty program

There are many benefits to joining a loyalty program—for both the customer and the business. Points, referrals, gamification, and, of course, discounts are just a few of the reasons why customers engage with them.

In fact, 75% of consumers say they favor companies that offer rewards. On top of that, a study by Bond found that 84% of loyalty program members will make a points redemption from a program.

But a lot of the time, businesses forget to promote their loyalty program and run fun campaigns that target getting new customers to sign up. This is where the opportunity lies. 

Actively promote your loyalty program to drive acquisition, and then keep engaging customers with loyalty campaigns to drive retention.

With your loyalty program, try the following ideas: 

  • Run a bonus point, bonus redemption, or bonus referral discount campaign. Let customers earn double the points or rewards for a period of time to encourage new sign-ups and purchases. You can promote this via email, putting a banner on your site, or creating a welcome or exit-intent pop-up to announce it. Doing this after the holidays is a good way to engage customers again with another delightful surprise.
  • Include a referrals element and VIP tiers. Semrush shared that 50% of customers change their habits just to get to a higher tier of a loyalty program they participate in. VIP tiers add gamification to your program, and referrals help you acquire new customers with strong word-of-mouth between friends and family.
  • Announce your program in your email or SMS flows. Simply, let customers know your program exists and highlight the benefits they get by joining. Even after customers sign up, continue to remind them why they did in the first place with an email welcome flow. Here’s a great example by Premama

Retention is a long-term game—yet it’s the most profitable

With all the new website traffic you’re going to get around the holidays with shoppers purchasing gifts, focusing on retention is a smart move to keep bringing those customers back. 

Keep in mind, retention marketing doesn’t always drive instant results, but over time it can be a really powerful strategy to complement your acquisition efforts. 

In fact, studies show that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Also, existing customers are 31% more likely to spend more on their average order value with your business.

Hopefully this gives you a good list to start with. Good luck bringing all those new customers back again this year!


This article was co-written by Laura Kluz and Tina Donati.