the guide to holiday ecommerce subscriptions


June 20, 2024

Learn the holiday marketing strategies used by top ecommerce subscription sellers to attract and hold down loyal subscribers past the holiday season.

Image of woman shopping online for holiday gift subscriptions

Subscriptions are the gift that keeps on giving — which means subscription merchants like you should have a sales pitch ready for the holiday season. Holiday shopping going digital means you have a bigger audience to sell to each year, but you still have to find ways to stand out among competitors and win over new subscribers the holidays bring.

The holiday marketing strategies used solely by straight-sale merchants aren’t going to get you the results you need. Your business model relies more heavily on customer loyalty than outreach and acquisition, which means you need a different holiday playbook.

This post includes a host of holiday strategies specifically for subscription merchants. You will learn how to:

  • Update Your Site for the Holiday Rush
  • Connect With Customers Emotionally
  • Plan Gift Subscription Offerings To Attract New Customers
  • Map Your Holiday Customer Journey for Gift Givers
  • Build Your Community With Exclusive Holiday Content
  • Strengthen Customer Relationships Through Personalized Holiday Offers
  • Win Subscribers’ Commitment With Cross-Promotion
  • Increase Profit Margins With Holiday Upsell Offers
  • Raise Average Order Value With Persuasive Pricing Strategies
  • Track Your Performance To Guide Future Ecommerce Holiday Efforts

The tips underlying each strategy are good year-round. And assuming you’re already set up to sell subscriptions, you likely use some of them already. Here’s how to adapt and leverage subscription commerce best practices during the holiday season to boost sales and wrap up new customers.

Features most likely to attract new subscribers

update your site for the holiday rush

Get your site ready to handle a high volume of ecommerce sales by performing maintenance and updates ahead of time. The steps you take to optimize your online presence now will help you grow subscription revenue over the upcoming holiday season and beyond.

First, audit your omnichannel presence. Shoppers don’t always go directly to an online retailer’s site. They shop online marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart to find gifts while browsing Instagram and Facebook. Set up profiles on multiple platforms and make sure you offer a consistent customer experience across all channels. Consumers are used to seamless online shopping — if you can’t provide it, they’ll switch to a merchant who can.

It’s also a good time to update your site to avoid losing existing customers. Launch landing pages that make it easy for shoppers to purchase your best sellers in just a few clicks. Try a pop-up form that asks for a visitor’s email in exchange for a discount or other perk. You should also set up a two-step checkout flow that gathers a shopper’s name and contact information before their payment details — then use that data for retargeting campaigns if they abandon the cart.

Maintaining your site’s backend is just as important, as you don’t want any crashes or glitches to affect holiday shoppers. Check that you have subscription self-management enabled; if it’s not an option, you may want to consider switching to a subscription app that supports a better consumer experience. The same goes for a credit card account updater and dunning tools, both of which will prevent you from losing revenue due to failed transactions. Make sure you’re receiving alerts for any chargeback claims and set up a system for addressing them before they cost you.

Hopefully, your ecommerce store has already implemented some or most of these solutions. Take a moment to double-check functionality, or you may get an unwelcome surprise during Cyber Monday. Once these adjustments are made, try not to make big changes to your site’s backend during the holiday season. The risk to your site’s stability, customer experience and purchase data is too great. Instead, think about how you can make the purchasing process as easy as possible with the tools you have now.

connect with customers emotionally

A good subscriber relationship isn’t just defined by a strong product and on-time deliveries. You need to forge an emotional bond with your customers so they care enough to stay loyal to your company. Subscribers who have fully bought into your brand are more likely to introduce their loved ones to your products. You’ll need to be ready to kickstart your relationship with those who came to you through a recommendation or gifted subscription.

Your first step is to understand who your customers are and what they want. Analytics platforms like Google Analytics offer insights into customer behaviors and demographics. You can view your visitors’ interests and break up your buyers demographically to learn who spends the most money. Then, get a view into your buyers’ minds by soliciting product reviews. Invite them to share their experiences shortly after their subscription is delivered, while the experience is fresh in their minds. You may want to offer a small incentive (such as a discount code or a free item) to get more engagement.

Then, tailor your outreach to speak to the behaviors and attitudes you’ve observed. Content and email marketing give you the chance to delve into the topics that matter to your audience. Use them to draw the connection between your subscription offering and the lifestyle they live or aspire to. Make sure you’re also sharing timely and relevant information to keep readers in the know. Pre-holidays, that means sending gift offers and making sure buyers know the hard shipping deadline for last-minute purchases. Post-holidays, you’ll want to teach newcomers about your brand and help them get the most out of their subscriptions.

Overall, your communications should emphasize how you’re a perfect fit for your subscribers’ lives and values. Don’t be afraid to reference the positive points users leave in reviews or to express strong opinions that reflect your key demographic’s feelings. Stay authentic by taking actions that are in line with the views you express. Whether that means donating a portion of your proceeds during Giving Tuesday or changing your product lineup to support small, local businesses — live up to your values in full. Authenticity and shared values will create a bond much greater than one that’s centered around a great product alone.

Why subscribers opt out

plan gift subscription offerings to attract new customers

Most presents are given in a one-time exchange based on the relationship between the gifter and the giftee. Subscription gifts are different in that they’re an ongoing reminder of the bond between the two parties. They also create a new relationship between you (the merchant) and the giftee. Though this person didn’t choose to engage with your brand, you have the chance to win them over and retain them as a customer.

Gift subscriptions are, therefore, a gift to your company as well. Take the time to do them right, and you’ll see a return. Here are the extra variables you’ll need to consider when crafting gift subscription offers:

  • Subscription term: How many shipments are gifters willing to pay for? How long do they want their gift to last?
  • The products: Which products are included in your gift offerings? Can recipients customize what’s delivered to them, and how will they do so?
  • Communications: Do you need to send transactional emails to the gifter during the initial term? Do you have a way to reach out to the giftee to share the information they need?
  • Account management: How will recipients transfer the subscription over to their own account if they wish to continue it? Will they have access to options like pausing or upgrading before the initial term is up?

You should also create a plan to start earning a giftee’s loyalty from day one. Individuals who purchase subscriptions for themselves have already deemed your offering a good fit for their lifestyle and your products a good value. Those who receive gift subscriptions likely have not bought in on this level. You’ll need to prove yourself by delivering on your promises and offering strong customer service.

The good news is the recipients of gift subscriptions still like the same incentives and offers as individuals who buy subscriptions for themselves. Add new subscribers to your loyalty program and send special offers, including cross-sell opportunities and discounts. Your goal is to make sure each recipient has many good experiences with your company before their initial subscription term is up. If they think well of you, they’ll be more likely to renew.

map your holiday customer journey for gift givers

The number of ecommerce subscriptions has ballooned lately, which means any seller that doesn’t provide a smooth customer journey will lose buyers to their competitors. This is true no matter the identity of your customers. Gift givers must find your site easy to navigate and use for their specific needs.

The principles of improving your customer journey are the same whether your shoppers are looking for themselves or someone else. However, users’ demands vary between different use cases. Gift givers often encounter friction at points of the customer journey that aren’t an issue for those shopping for themselves. For instance, product selection and customization trip up givers who don’t know their recipient’s size, brand preference or other specific tastes. Those shopping for others may not know the correct answer to various questions you ask for personalization purposes. There’s also the potential for shipping times to surprise gifters who live far away from their intended recipients.

Subscription sellers can sidestep many of these problems by separating the purchase from the subscription customization. With this setup, the gifter buys a subscription without making any personalized choices. The recipient can then personalize the subscription themselves by choosing products, shipment dates and other details. This allows them to get exactly what they want — and decreases the pressure on the gifter to make the right choices.

Including flexibility in your subscription offerings is always a good plan because it helps you meet each individual’s needs. The same tools you use to present subscribers with multiple options also allow gift givers to give their recipients the choice of what their subscriptions will look like.

build your community with exclusive holiday content

Your company’s brand is foundational to building trust among consumers and forging emotional connections with subscribers. Hopefully, your brand already embodies and communicates your mission and values. Emphasize these elements while making space for the prevalent holiday themes of cheer and goodwill to connect with existing subscribers and new customers alike.

Subscription-first companies have an advantage when it comes to holiday marketing in that they tend to already have strong communities of brand advocates willing to sell shoppers on your products. Social media is key to showcasing your community and inviting new people to join. Post or re-share user-generated content (UGC) to build hype and show authentic testimonials. If you don’t already have a UGC machine, the holidays are a great time to build one: Invite people to contribute content in exchange for a special holiday promotion, discount code or a chance to win free products.

Most sought-after loyalty program benefits

Give your fans and followers an insider experience by including them in holiday celebrations. Host giveaways or contests and give gifts to your loyal customers. Adding a free item to a winner’s next subscription box or giving away a free month of product are easy and low-cost ways to strengthen ties with your customers. You can also make customers feel special by giving them early access to holiday sales or sending exclusive discount codes so they can wow their loved ones with amazing gifts.

A holiday campaign doesn’t have to be big and fancy to make an impact if it makes your target audience feel appreciated. When you invite fans and newcomers to be an active part of your online community, you’ll win their loyalty and continued business.

strengthen customer relationships through personalized holiday offers

Subscription sellers must lean into relational commerce: the practice of fostering connections with customers to win and retain their loyalty. Personalization is one of the best ways to make customers feel seen and appreciated. You should always provide a tailored experience by:

  • Writing compelling marketing copy for different customer segments and serving ads that speak to each user’s wants and needs.
  • Generating relevant offers based on each subscriber’s past purchases and behavior. Personalized recommendations are a top driver of subscription sign-ups, with more than 15% of consumers citing the feature in our June 2023 Subscription Commerce Readiness Report.
  • Making every direct communication, whether it’s a transactional email or a delivery, seem unique by using the customer’s name and other personal information.

The holidays are a great time to make personalization work for you. Use marketing collateral inside your shipment to highlight the products your customers have been enjoying all year so it’s easy for them to share their joy with loved ones. Create offers that allow them to get more of what they love (or a freebie that’s relevant to their current order) when they purchase a gift subscription. This approach isn’t just about generating sales; it’s also about bringing new subscribers — people your current customers care about — into the community you’ve created.

Don’t stop at personalizing your outreach to customers. Allow them to send personalized gifts as well. Everyone wants to give a thoughtful present, so make it easy for your customers to do so. Allow them to swap products and choose from a variety of subscription frequencies or deliver a subscription gift notice that allows recipients to make their own choices. Keep things personal by asking customers to supply each recipient’s name, then add a note that addresses them personally. You may even want to allow gifters to add a holiday message or choose from a variety of prewritten well wishes.

The last aspect to consider when building relationships is how you can personalize your messaging to show that your company aligns with your customers’ values. Today’s consumers care more than ever about corporate commitments to social responsibility. The holiday season is the most popular time of the year for charitable giving. If you can tie your brand and sales to a good cause, you’ll strike a chord with people who want to have a positive impact on the world and share that with their loved ones. Showcase what your company is doing for your consumers’ community and target it toward those who have previously interacted with mission-based content. The frequent reminders of your company’s impact will make this segment feel good about buying your products for themselves and be proud to gift them to others.

More than 15% of consumers consider personalized recommendations a subscription must-have.

win subscribers’ commitment with cross-promotion

Many consumers like subscriptions simply because they’re fun. Bring some holiday excitement to your subscription ecommerce strategy by partnering with another adjacent company to offer add-ons or free trials of new products.

Subscription-curious consumers, typically a churn risk, like having the option to purchase relevant products offered by third-party sellers. This customer segment typically signs up for a subscription because they want to test products. They’re willing to switch to a competitor quickly if they don’t like what you send. But giving them a special deal on another company’s products makes them more likely to keep their subscription active. Cross-promotional sales and gifts work well to entice them because they offer up a new experience. The surprise of having additional options also plays well with an audience that’s after the excitement of a new purchase.

The holidays are a natural time to offer cross-promotional deals, both to upsell your current subscribers and to entice gift givers. Subscriptions that come with bonus trial products can frame them as “holiday gifts.” Those that cross-sell subscribers on third-party products can encourage buyers to treat themselves to a gift this holiday season. Or try gifting third-party products to subscribers who give a subscription to someone else.

Don’t give up on these partnerships after the holidays end. You’re likely to go into the new year with new customers who are less committed to you simply because their subscription was a gift rather than something they chose. Make sure it’s a gift that keeps giving with regular offers, such as free trials or add-ons that are relevant to your core offering. Each package should be a new thrill.

Cross-promotional partnerships aren’t just a boon because they get your product in front of new customers. They help you close the cross-sell, learn more about the types of complementary products your subscribers are interested in and keep customers excited for each new delivery. The right partnership helps you go above and beyond for your customers without requiring heavy investment from you and your team.

increase profit margins with holiday upsell offers

A good upsell strategy strengthens customer relationships by showing you understand your subscribers’ needs in order to offer the right solutions. However, you’re unlikely to succeed with an upsell unless your target customer is pleased with your brand. If you want to encourage a holiday splurge, you need to think about who and how to upsell.

Every upsell is based on a strong understanding of your customers and their preferences. Subscription-based businesses have rich data on the products each customer purchases as well as the frequency of those sales. Use this information to choose the right target customers (happy ones with the propensity to spend more) with the right products (premium versions of their most-loved items). You could use this customer data to attempt to upsell new shoppers, but the success rate will be lower due to the lack of an existing relationship.

The holiday season is a great time to launch new upsell offers because shoppers are already in the mood to spend. One of the easiest ways to win someone over is with a one-time discount or coupon on a new, more expensive product. Add an upsell sale to your existing holiday deal lineup to give consumers a chance to get more value for their money.

Holiday shopping also comes with a built-in sense of urgency, which helps close the sale. Make sure buyers know if you have a limited amount of product, which often happens around the holidays. You can also leverage the spirit of the season to make an argument for why customers should upgrade now. The holidays are a time to do something special, whether for oneself or others. There’s also the upcoming new year when many try to turn over a new leaf. Both themes make excellent angles for upsell marketing campaigns.

raise average order value with persuasive pricing strategies

The more money each customer spends, the fewer customers you must acquire to turn a profit. Ecommerce businesses all have their favorite strategies for increasing average order value (AOV). Many of them can be directly adapted to perform during the holiday season.

Cross-sells and upsells are both excellent strategies to convince customers to pay more while also increasing their trust in you. However, you don’t need to bring new products into the mix to raise AOV. Quantity-based discounts give a better value and entice customers to add more products to their carts. Give this sale a holiday spin by advertising higher quantities as a shopping time-saver. Customers can check two things off their list at once by buying one product for themselves and getting another at half price to give as a gift.

Truly Free discount example for ecommerce subscription offering
Subscription cleaning brand Truly Free uses special discounts to upsell customers.

Product bundles also make for a good holiday offer. The urge to be generous is strong at this time of year; play off generosity by encouraging shoppers to give bigger gifts. Bundle complementary products so you can sell holiday shoppers an experience. For example, add fuzzy socks and a journal to your tea lover’s box to set recipients up for a cozy day at home — or offer fancy drinkware alongside your cocktail mixers set to upgrade the giftee’s at-home bar. The key to a good bundle is the ability to tell a story about how each product plays into the recipient’s desires.

If you don’t want to recommend specific products for each customer, you can fall back on the classic offer of free shipping above a certain price threshold. During the holiday rush, you may also consider whether you can offer free (or discounted) expedited shipping to customers who make large purchases. With shortages and delays still snarling supply chains, online shoppers may be anxious to make sure their presents arrive on time. The price of expedited shipping on its own often results in sticker shock. If you can decrease that number for customers who put a few more items in their cart, you’re likely to drive more revenue.

Increasing the AOV of an initial subscription order sets you up for higher sales throughout a customer’s lifecycle with your company. Those who are initially gifted with subscriptions at a higher price tier may be unwilling to downgrade, even if they would have picked a lesser option for themselves. Therefore, while AOV is often seen as a short-term metric, its effects can last far longer than the initial purchase.

track your performance to guide future ecommerce holiday efforts

Retailers are among the busiest companies during the holiday shopping season, so you likely won’t have time to make changes to your online store until after December. Instead of rushing to adjust your process while trying to fulfill all your holiday subscription orders, focus on measuring your company’s performance. Gather metrics and analytics and track key performance indicators (KPIs) for the entirety of the season. The more information you can get, the better off you’ll be.

This data will be most useful to you after the holidays are over. At that point, you’ll have time to analyze it and draw useful conclusions. You’ll then be armed with the context you need to prepare for next year’s holiday season. Pilot any changes during your slower months to avoid costly disruptions. Roll them out a few months before the holidays begin so you have time to troubleshoot problems and work out any kinks.

plan your holiday subscription strategy based on real consumer preferences. click here to discover the seven subscriber personas and the subscription offerings they're most drawn toward.

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