Top 2021 Holiday Email Campaign Trends
for US Retailers

And 3 Important Takeaways As You Optimize Your Winter Campaigns

With planning for the winter holidays in full swing, email marketers are under more pressure than ever to deliver demand – especially in the retail space. As the world continues to swirl around us, it’s hard to accurately project how email programs will perform in 2021. So let’s take a step back. 

Looking at 2020 vs. 2019 email campaigns, we saw expected dips as brands pumped the brakes on campaigns and we all isolated. However, we’ve already seen a ton of new email growth in 2021. Seasonal campaigns to date indicate that email is on the rise, and it’s still a leading channel for enterprise retailers.  (See what’s happening with UK brands here.)

Combine all this good data + our industry expertise + your killer campaigns, and you can rest assured that your holiday programs are on the right track this year.


Looking at U.S. retail campaigns during holiday prime time (Nov. 1 – Dec. 31) in 2020 vs. 2019, email took an overall dive. It’s clear that brands paused a lot of campaigns amidst the global crisis.

Fast forward a bit, and let’s look at the campaigns of five major U.S. retailers leading up to Valentine’s Day in 2021 vs. 2020. Things started to ramp back up for some, but growth was inconsistent across big box stores early in the year.


Now let’s look at retail campaigns leading up to Easter in 2021 vs. 2020 for these same brands. We started to see some more consistent trends here, including more campaign creation across the board as retailers started leaning back into email. The number of emails being deployed is climbing, too.


Jumping to campaigns the weeks before Mother’s Day in 2021 vs. 2020, we see campaign creation continue to soar, but engagement is still underwhelming – perhaps due to cold inboxes after 2020’s decreased email volumes.


Lastly, during the weeks before Father’s Day in 2021 vs. 2020, we saw similar trends. Most email campaigns are on the rise. However, read rates continue to decrease as subscriber lists grow.

3 Important Takeaways for Retailers As You Optimize Your 2021 Winter Campaigns

Warm Up Your Lists

Increasing holiday volumes will almost certainly require mailing to subscribers who have been email-inactive for 90 days or more. This needs to be done practically (and soon!) in order to avoid spam issues and inbox risks during holiday prime time later this year. Inactive segments should be embedded within larger sends to activate new audiences – or warm up cold ones. To optimize deliverability, avoid making those inactive audiences more than around 10% of any given deployment. Check out these 9 Holiday Deliverability Tips for more expert advice!

Relevant Content Matters More Than Ever

Especially given these deliverability concerns, it’s critical for brands to strategically target and segment your audiences by curating messages and offers based on what’s known about those subscribers – like status, location, preferences, and browse/purchase behavior. And don’t forget to factor this personalized content into your subject lines.

Start Early for Happier Customers

Given the persistent shipping and supply chain issues being encountered during the pandemic, it’s important this year for retailers to be talking to customers about holiday buying/giving earlier than you might normally begin. If holiday-related messaging typically ramps up in November for your brand, consider at least starting those campaigns in mid-October or earlier. 


All data was provided by SparkPost’s Competitive Tracker, the only platform available for delivering comprehensive competitive email intelligence. Analyze your email execution and performance against your industry and top competitors across a variety of metrics and elements, like inbox performance, read rates, send-times, contact frequencies, degrees of segmentation, subject lines, and creative. Get a demo to discover your use case.