Holiday Marketing 101: How to Drive Sales During the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Person holding a gift

The holiday period is known as the most wonderful time of year. For retailers, it’s also known as the busiest. 

Almost a third of all retail sales happen between Black Friday and Christmas Day. It’s the shopping period most people look forward to, beating Amazon Prime Day and other gift-giving seasons like Mother’s and Father’s Day.

Holiday shopping will be here before you know it. But to get a slice of the $789 billion consumer spending pie throughout the festive season, you need a marketing campaign to capture potential customers’ attention. 

Unsure when to start? The short answer is right now. This guide shares key dates to prepare for and tips to ensure your next holiday marketing campaign helps you capitalize on the most profitable season of the year.

The importance of holiday marketing campaigns

Holiday shopping is a yearly tradition for many consumers, with 46% saying they enjoy visiting retail stores with friends and family on holidays like Black Friday. Another 27% say the overall excitement of the day is what nudges them to shop in-store rather than online. 

Those retail holiday shopping trips result in huge splurges—making the latter months of the year amongst the most profitable for retailers of all sizes.

The National Retail Federation predicted a sluggish growth in holiday spending last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It wreaked havoc on in-store shopping experiences throughout the holiday season, with many shoppers considering abandoning their plans to shop in-store.

Because of this, the NRF expected a 3.6% to 5.2% growth. However, that ended up being a low estimate compared to the actual 8.3% year-on-year growth. In fact, holiday season spending hit an all-time high and exceeded $789 billion in 2020.

US holiday retail sales

While the pandemic resulted in fewer people shopping in-store, those who did spent more than they did on a usual trip, with the average spend per in-store shopper increasing by 33.3% despite foot traffic falling by 48.4%. 

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With nearly half of consumers starting their holiday shopping before December, consider planning your marketing activities well in advance of peak sales season. This ensures you have enough time to launch, learn, and tweak your campaigns so they’re effective at attracting customers. 

Important dates to consider in your holiday planning


Halloween falls on October 31 every year. It signals the start of the holiday season. The average US shopper expected to spend $92.12 on Halloween-related items last year. While that may not sound like much, it amounts to a whopping $8 billion in sales. The end of Halloween also signals that it’s time to re-merchandise your store to reflect the holiday season.


Thanksgiving is a US holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. But there’s more to it than splurging on turkey and pumpkin pie.

Data shows that 186.4 million consumers shopped online and in-store during the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday weekend, amounting to $5.1 billion in total spend. Some 17% of those shoppers planned to make most of their Thanksgiving purchases in-store.

Black Friday

Black Friday is arguably the most popular date of the year—especially for retailers. It happens on the Friday following Thanksgiving. 

Some 70% of people shop in-store on Black Friday, a higher number than the first weekend of December and Cyber Monday. And surprisingly, Black Friday spending was barely impacted by the pandemic. A fifth of shoppers planned to increase their Black Friday shopping budget last year, which led to total retail sales of $9 billion.

Thanksgiving weekend in-store shopping days

Cyber Monday

The Monday that follows Black Friday is Cyber Monday. As its name suggests, it’s one of the biggest ecommerce shopping days of the year. 

Data shows that Cyber Monday is the day where consumers spend the most. More than $10.8 million was spent on this day alone in 2020, beating Thanksgiving and Black Friday itself. A quarter of these online sales happen between the hours of 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.


It’s estimated that shoppers spent $650 billion on holiday gifts and $230 on non-gift holiday items (such as decorations) during the Christmas season. Christmas takes place on December 25, but shopping for the big day starts much earlier. 

People shop for last-minute holiday gifts up to (and including) Christmas Eve. After the big day, shoppers flock to Boxing Day sales, treating themselves to clearance items that retailers couldn’t sell through before Christmas. 

New Year’s

New Year’s is the fourth-most popular holiday of the year, but there's more to it than fireworks and countdowns. It’s also a time where people buy outfits for parties and give to charity. In fact, it’s estimated that 20% of all charitable donations are made in the final two days of the calendar year. 

Chinese New Year, which happens at the start of the lunar calendar, is also a big spending season. Consumers collectively spent $127 billion throughout the seven-day event. 

Holiday marketing channels

Social media

Platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram have all grown in popularity. By 2025, 56.7% of the world’s population will be on social media, but there’s more to it than sharing posts with family and friends. A quarter of users rely on social media to research new products when holiday shopping.

Whether you’re promoting your Black Friday sales, following The Sheet Society’s Advent-calendar-style 12 Dogs of Christmas, or creating Instagram shoppable posts, use your social channels to share gift ideas, your holiday promotions, and drive traffic to your online or offline store.

The Sheet Society 12 Dogs of Christmas

Search engines

When people are looking for something, the chances of them using a search engine like Google are very high. In fact, 68% of all website traffic comes from search engines. With this in mind, it should come to no surprise that shoppers turn to search engines while shopping for the holidays. 

The chart below shows how often people search for “gift ideas” on Google. Every year for the past five years, the term “gift ideas” spikes in popularity from November to December. Searches for “gift ideas” peak around the festive season. Merchants with gift guides stand a better chance of being discovered by shoppers via search engines.

After being in business for over 10 years, we have found that organic search has been the biggest factor for being successful during the holiday season. Over 80% of our traffic comes from organic search throughout the year, so we make sure our site is up to date and the messaging for our marketing campaigns is front and center.

Paid advertising 

Did you know that 57% of shoppers believe that ads on social media help them to find new gift ideas? Once they find new products through an Instagram or Facebook ad, 40% of shoppers are likely to spend at least $50 on a gift for a loved one.

But it’s not just online advertising that rakes in holiday sales. There are other ways to advertise offline in your local area. Radio ads, billboards, and promotions in local newspapers and online publications can help your retail store drive foot traffic (and sales) over the festive season. 


Despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic changed the way we shop in-store, almost half of holiday shoppers still visited brick and mortar stores at some point over the holidays in 2020. 

More than half (55%) of holiday shoppers said the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases didn’t affect their holiday spending plans this year.

But even if you don’t have a permanent brick-and-mortar location, don’t rule out in-store holiday shopping experiences entirely. You’ll often find craft fairs, markets, and pop-up stores appearing throughout the holiday season. Consider joining one of those events to reach people in new locations already in the holiday spirit.


An email marketing newsletter is a powerful tool for any retailer. You’re able to use them to reach both new and existing customers, deliver deals, and reward people for making repeat purchases. Plus, the most important thing of all, you reach them in one of the only places people have to opt into hearing from you: their email inbox. 

For 38% of shoppers, emails from retailers were the most helpful in learning about holiday-related deals and promotions. Use them as a vehicle to shout about your holiday promotions, run retargeting campaigns, and promote flash sales. 

10 holiday marketing tips for brick-and-mortar stores 

Now that we know the different channels you can use in your holiday marketing campaigns, you may be questioning how to use them to their full potential. Here are 10 holiday marketing ideas to try this festive season. 

1. Audit previous holiday marketing campaign performance

The foundation of any good marketing campaign is data. Chances are you ran some kind of holiday promotion last year. What worked well? What didn’t? What did you learn last year that may help make this year’s marketing campaign do even better? Measure your past marketing results to inform future campaigns.

Let’s put that into practice and say you hosted the following holiday marketing events: 

  • A pop-up store at the NYC Christmas market 
  • A Black Friday flash sale at your Brooklyn store
  • An email marketing campaign giving customers 10% off throughout the Cyber Weekend

Your sales data shows that most customers came from the email marketing campaign. At first glance, that may sound like a win. More customers means more revenue, right? Not necessarily.

Alongside the number of new customers each campaign got, dig deeper into the data. Which campaign or channel had the highest conversion rate or average order value (AOV)? 

This year, prioritize the campaign and/or channel that came out on top, but still leave space for new ideas. That way, you double-down on what’s known to work without putting all of your eggs in one Christmas-themed basket. 

Alto at Selfridges, for example, had a successful holiday pop-up store. A well-known influencer in the local area, Milly Molly Mae, visited the store and snapped an Instagram post to share with her followers. Maybe they host the same event this year with an extra push, inviting influencers to the event and reposting their content to the retailer’s own profile. 

Alto pop-up shop

Don’t just look into your own data. Your competitors are likely running their own holiday marketing campaigns. So, scan through their social media profiles and check for any press coverage last year.

The most important thing we do is track our competition. We sign up for their emails and follow them on social media. We want to know exactly what they’re doing and when they’re launching their holiday marketing campaigns. This has helped us create and promote better marketing campaigns than our competition each year.

Brian Anderson, My Supplement Store

2. Diversify your holiday marketing tactics

These days, shopping experiences are anything but linear. Search engines, retail stores, and recommendations from family and friends all work their way into holiday shopping research. It’s why the majority (72%) of shoppers plan to shop for holiday gifts both online and in-store.

Consider this when creating your holiday marketing campaign and diversify the channels, promotions, and messaging you’re running. Post user-generated content (UGC) on social media, display posters in your local area, and send email marketing campaigns to drive ecommerce sales. 

It’s the best way to see which your target audience responds best to—so you can double-down and improve your holiday marketing ROI.

Marketing in-store with pop-up materials corresponding with online graphics, social media, and emails can create a winning strategy. Shoppers are so inundated with marketing messages that they will need to see a retailer’s message multiple times before really seeing the message.

3. Start planning early

It’s a common misconception that holiday shopping only happens around the date of an event. 

However, data shows that 38% of people start their holiday shopping before the end of October. Another 23% have already begun by Thanksgiving—the date often considered as the start of the holiday season. 

When holiday shopping begins

All of this goes to show that retailers need to be planning their seasonal campaigns in advance. Avoid scrambling at the last minute when customers are looking for gifts. Make sure you’re prepared by creating your marketing materials, such as social media templates and newsletter ads, in advance.

(It’s also worth loading up on inventory to prevent stockouts and hiring temporary retail staff to prepare for an influx of holiday shoppers at this point.) 

“How far in advance do I actually need to plan?” may be a question that’s sprung to mind. There is no best practice; it depends on how much work you need to do and the resources you have available. 

Generally speaking, aim to start your holiday campaign preparation in September. It’s better to be early than late (and risk missing out on those starting early). 

4. Use holiday email marketing

Earlier, we mentioned that email is a channel with the potential to drive tons of new and existing customers to your holiday marketing promotions. 

Use your email campaigns to drive traffic to your website or brick-and-mortar store through:

  • Gift guides. Help people decide which products to give their loved ones with gift guides. Round up your most popular products gifted to men, women, children, and partners. 
  • Giveaways. Incentivize your subscribers to engage elsewhere by running a competition. For example, have every new customer tweet about the item on their wishlist and tag your brand. The winner gets a $100 voucher to spend in-store. 
  • Subscriber-only flash sales. Stand out amongst the Black Friday emails by offering discounts, flash sales, or coupon codes. The catch? They’re only available to those on your mailing list. It will help you grow your list for post-holiday retargeting. 

A valuable direct marketing channel to use for the holidays is social media and email newsletters, which are great for promoting products, services, and holiday specials.

Jonathan Roque, Content Strategist at Zapiet

Magic Spoon, for example, uses its email newsletter to showcase its exclusive holiday product. Its limited edition gingerbread cereal is only available to its subscribers. 

As a final nudge to buy, Magic Spoon mentions the cut-off point for Christmas delivery. Shoppers need to order the product by December 14 for guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery, which gives subscribers an incentive to buy now, rather than later.

Magic Spoon newsletter

While we’re on the topic of email marketing, use the data you already have on customers to your advantage. Segment them into various groups based on: 

  • Their demographic (such as their age or gender)
  • Their location and nearest store 
  • Which types of product they’ve purchased before 

Send personalized emails based on each defining quality. Subscribers near your Chicago store can get store-specific offers; those with a history of buying men’s trainers can profile the mens sneakers included in your Black Friday deals.

Regardless of how you’re personalizing your holiday emails, you’ll reach the 80% of consumers who are more likely to make a purchase off the back of a personalized shopping experience. 

5. Offer free shipping

Better prices is the biggest incentive for consumers to try a new store or retailer during the holiday season. That’s shortly followed by coupons or discounts, used by 44% of shoppers, proving that price really does mean everything. 

One way to use those demands to your advantage is offering free shipping. A quarter of online shoppers expect free delivery. So, ditch the standard delivery charge and treat $0 shipping as a gift to your customers. 

If you can’t afford to pay shipping fees for all orders, consider adding eligibility requirements—like only for orders over $50. It nudges people to spend more and stops you paying $2 shipping for a $5 order. (It’s why orders with free shipping have a 30% higher average order value. People would rather spend more on goods than pay for shipping.)

Other delivery options, such as curbside pickup and buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) are also worth considering. Both allow shoppers to collect an item sooner, making it an attractive option for last minute Christmas shoppers. They don’t have to wait for delivery; you don’t have to ship it out. They simply collect the item from their nearest store. 

Research shows that curbside pickup orders increased by 30% year-over-year on Cyber Monday. Take that as your sign to ditch the delivery fee and let holiday shoppers collect the items on their terms. 

6. Appeal to emotions

Christmas is an emotional season. It’s the time of year we spend most often with our families and think of those no longer with us. 

Retailers can use those emotions in their own holiday marketing campaigns. Whether it’s inducing a feeling of nostalgia or pure happiness, provoke them to encourage emotional purchases—proven to be 3,000 times quicker than rational thoughts.

UK department store John Lewis has mastered the art of emotional Christmas ads. The release of its festive video is anticipated every year. From Edgar the excitable dragon to its recent “Give a Little Love” campaign, each advert is almost guaranteed to make people head to Twitter and share how it made them cry.

7. Give back to your local community

There are tons of things to consider when a shopper is thinking about buying from a new retailer. One of those is whether the brand supports a purpose.

Research shows that customers are four times more likely to purchase from brands with a strong sense of purpose. With the festive season being the time of giving, work this into your holiday marketing strategy by giving back to your local community.

Not only does it show you’re passionate about a cause, but shoppers will feel less guilty about their splurge. They may be more likely to spend if they know a small part of their purchase is going toward someone or something in need. 

Broken Riders is a retailer doing this on a larger scale. For every Black Friday purchase, 10% of the sale price goes to mental health charity Mind.

Broken Riders Black Friday sale

8. Go all in on window displays

“The holidays aren’t the time to be conservative with your store’s appearance. You want to be noticed by everyone who walks within a 100-foot radius of your store,” says Brian Dean, founder of Exploding Topics.

It’s true. With so many people saying their festive shopping period is a yearly tradition, get passersby to visit your store with a holiday-themed window display. You’ll reach the window shoppers who have no intention of visiting your store but can’t help themselves when they see your festive display. 

“If your store or company already has a distinct color scheme, stick to it and emphasize it. Increase the amount of lighting in and around your store to make it more visible at all times of the day and night.” explains Brian.

Put up some booths outside, display some of your most popular products, go crazy with your window display—do whatever you can to make your store more visually appealing and engaging. Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild.

Brian Dean, founder of Exploding Topics

The Protein Bakery, for example, decorates its storefront every Christmas. It posts a video to its Facebook page to encourage followers to visit. 

The Protein Bakery storefront

9. Advertise in the local area

Driving foot traffic to your store is half the battle in your quest to generate more holiday sales. Once you have them in your store, shoppers can be won over by your attractive displays and seeing your product in the flesh.

One way to push people toward your store throughout the holiday season is by playing around with radio ads, billboards, and posters in local shopping malls. You could also have retail staff hand out flyers in busy shopping districts or Christmas markets. “Get 10% off with this voucher” and directions to your store could be enough to make them stop off and buy something. 

Alongside offline channels, Facebook advertising is a good option to consider. You’re able to segment your audience to:

  • Target people within close proximity to your brick-and-mortar store.
  • Retarget people who’ve bought an item in-store before. 
  • Reach people who’ve visited your store but not bought anything.

Facebook ads locations

Take Moriarty's Gem Art, for example. Some 35% of its annual sales happen between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For this reason, its marketing manager, Jeff Moriarty, says, “It is extremely important that our holiday marketing campaigns go well.”

We find paid Facebook ads drive the most foot traffic. We normally target a certain demographic within a 10 to 15 mile radius of our store and see great results.

Jeff Moriarty, Marketing Manager at Moriarty’s Gem Art

Despite his success with Facebook ads, Moriarty adds, “My biggest recommendation is to test different platforms to see what works best for you. We tested Google Ads, Bing Adcenter, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, and based on those results, found out which worked best. Now we focus solely on those platforms.”

10. Create exclusive holiday editions and discounts

Holiday promotions are rife on major dates throughout the festive season. As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” 

Discount codes are the driving force behind 89% of millennial purchases from a new retailer. Some 95.4% of all US shoppers have seeked one out before buying online. Make it easy for those people and get ahead of competitors by offering holiday promotions.

Cocokind, for example, posts lighthearted memes to its Instagram page to promote its Black Friday Cyber Monday sale. Each shopper gets 20% off online products and free shipping—two incentives bound to make followers exit the Instagram app and enter the retailer’s website.

Cocokind BFCM sale

Want to take this a step further? Consider creating limited edition versions of your most popular products. Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is the most obvious example. Its release coincides with the start of the holiday season and is long awaited year round. 

“Smaller retailers that can control their manufacturing might want to consider doing a special edition product for the holiday to generate some buzz,” suggests Mikey Moran, founder and CEO of Private Label Extensions

For example, we’re offering limited-supply wigs to holiday shoppers looking for an exclusive new look. Since quantities are limited, we expect the wigs will help drive foot traffic to our showrooms and retail stores.

Mikey Moran, founder and CEO of Private Label Extensions

Holiday marketing examples and ideas

The Giving Manger

The Giving Manger is a case study that goes to show you can build a thriving business off seasonal marketing campaigns. 

It only offers one product: a Christmas-themed activity kit that comes with a wooden manger, a bundle of straw, a tiny baby Jesus, and an accompanying book. And it makes all of its annual revenue within six months. 

The brand started off the back of a Kickstarter campaign that was funded in two days with zero paid promotion. Its founder, Lisa Kalberer, attributes its success to a brand story, “We really love giving people a tradition that’s not just about receiving. Some really influential people in the Christian market reached out to us just from our Kickstarter campaign. Everyone really rallied for us, and it’s pretty amazing.” 

The Giving Manger only has a limited amount of stock each year. Kalberer adds, “Obviously, we don’t want to not have products, because then we’re not making money.”

But this adds to its scarcity model. People need to buy them as soon as possible. If not, they’ll miss out and have to wait for next year. 

Forage Plants

Forage Plants is a brick-and-mortar store with an online shop. It uses its Instagram page to promote its branded Cyber Planturday sale, where customers can get 15% off their online purchase. 

What’s interesting about this campaign, though, is the fact that the retailer pushes curbside pickup. Local customers don’t miss out on the deal if they planned to drop by the store. They can still claim the discount if they order online and pickup in-store, and the retailer doesn’t need to spend on delivery fees. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. 

Forage Plants Cyber Planturday sale


Gymshark is one of the fastest-growing DTC brands. So, it makes sense that it would have a strong Black Friday campaign. 

The campaign started with a short Instagram video teasing its upcoming sale. Promising the “biggest ever Black Friday sale”, each teaser video used the same branded hashtag, #BigDealEnergy. One video even starred influencer KSI—and really got people excited.

A fancy social media campaign that got people talking? Nothing new in Gymshark’s marketing strategy. But its humorous approach to its Black Friday video campaign—a news-style YouTube video to answer frequently asked questions about its annual sale—may not be what you expected.

Creating your holiday marketing plan

As you can see, there’s more to holiday marketing than a few Instagram posts that show your Black Friday offers. Use these ideas to offer free shipping, play on emotion, and go all-in on your festive window displays.

Regardless of which ideas you’re using, remember that planning starts way before the festive season officially kicks off. Aim to have your holiday marketing campaigns prepared and ready to go by the end of September. That way, you don’t risk losing out on customers eager to start their Christmas shopping when fall rolls around. 

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