Understanding the Psychology of Holiday Email Purchasing

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it.” A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Christmas is two months away, but already we see signs of the holidays everywhere.

If you open your local newspaper there will be fliers and postcards that fall all over the floor. Turn on the TV and you’ll see commercials promoting new toys and holiday deals. If you go online you’ll already start to see ads and emails for holiday shopping.

Early Holiday Email

The holidays have arrived? I’m still trying to find a Halloween costume.

Man. We still have Halloween and Thanksgiving to get through.

It looks like the annual holiday creep is upon us. Every year the holidays start earlier and earlier and it can be frustrating as a business (and rewarding) because it’s a non-stop fight for attention in the inbox.

Let’s look at the history of holiday shopping. With understanding about why people shop so early for holiday gifts and how businesses react to those shopping habits we’ll be better prepared for holiday email marketing strategies.

The Psychology of Holiday Shopping

Shopping is an emotional experience.

People are emotional creatures. We live by our emotions for better or for worse. It is difficult to make every decision with a sound, reasonable mind. I’m sure some people can, but they probably don’t have any excitement in their lives.

We need emotions to make life interesting. This is why we love the holidays and why we love holiday shopping. It’s an emotional time and people feed off it.

People tend to spend their money more wisely when they are of sound mind. During the holidays, though, people are not of sound mind at least in some aspects.

For example, would you purchase red wagon for your child or grandchild on a random day in July? Most likely you would not. Your sound mind will think of reasons not to purchase the wagon.

The child already has enough toys.

The child will lose interest after a few minutes.

Wagons are expensive these days.

Now, change the setting of the wagon purchase decision to November from July. Now you have different feelings happening and your mind is distracted. You are seeing commercials on TV of parents and their kids playing in the yard. There are print images in store windows and TV shows are airing holiday specials.

Your brain focuses on good memories from your childhood like the time you received a red wagon for Christmas from Santa.

How can you put a price on that kind of memory?

“Here’s $100. I’ll take one red wagon please.”

For the last 100 years or so the business world has put the marketing machine into full force during the holiday season. Businesses realize that people are emotional and since the holidays are an emotional time it makes sense for businesses to bring out those emotions. It clouds our minds and makes us more apt to make purchases.

Business Reaction to Holiday Shopping

Every year businesses try to extend the holiday shopping season.

The Holiday Creep.

Why do businesses do this?

The longer The Holiday Creep lasts the better chance there is to close a sale. There is a balancing act going on with how much businesses can push the emotional state of the holidays onto people without the effect wearing out.

Businesses push the holiday season out earlier. This is the normal way to increase Holiday Creep. People get in the mood sooner for Christmas. They’ll put out decorations earlier and will start buying seasonal food earlier. It all adds up for businesses.

Urgency is another way businesses cash in every holiday.

We all think about the people that procrastinate every year. These people wait until the last minute to do their holiday shopping. Some businesses will take advantage of these folks toward the end of the season by putting a premium on last minute items and shipping charges.

There is also urgency in the other direction. Businesses are putting pressure on people to purchase items sooner rather than later. The idea is that the popular gifts might run out soon so it’s safer to make the purchase now.

pre-holiday email marketing

Stock up now, before the crowd hits!

With this going on it can be difficult to understand how your business can manage the entire holiday process. Here are three tips.

How to Create a Holiday Email Marketing Strategy

Tip #1: It’s okay to focus on the emotions of your customer. People are seemingly passionate about pricing. Lots of companies will focus on discounting and promotions for the next two months.

You don’t necessarily need to focus on price to win the inbox. There are other emotions to use to win the attention of your customers. Focus on nostalgia, family and other good feelings that people associate with the holidays. When people feel good they are likely to make a purchase.

Tip #2: Urgency is a powerful emotion. Use it early and use it throughout the holiday season. Schedules fill up during the holidays so there are lots of dates that people need to worry about and plan for. If you can get people ready before those dates they’ll not only buy from you they’ll appreciate the reminder.

Tip #3: Do the work for your customers. Everybody is busy during the holidays. People are busy at work. People are busy on the weekends doing all kinds of things. Then the holidays come along and things get even busier. People are planning and getting ready. Time is precious.

Do something for your customers. Make gift suggestions. Curate for your customers and they’ll be happy to spend money with you. They will realize that you’re helping them save time.

triggered Email from Amazon

Automate the suggestion process.


Things are about to get crazy in the email marketing world.

In order to win over some attention in the inbox you’re going to have to get creative. Follow the tips above and you should have a few good strategies heading into the holiday season.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a large retailer or a small business. There is something to gain from the holiday season because people are in the buying mood.

Happy Holidays!


  1. Excellent web site. Lots of helpful information here. I am sending it to some buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks in your sweat!

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