Behavioral targeting strategies for ecommerce brands during the holidays

A marketer's guide to channeling the spirits of past, present and future customer behaviors

Tis almost the season when the ghosts of past, present, and future roam the landscape, weaving their timeless tales of transformation and reflection.

The holidays are truly a magical time of the year, not only for consumers but also for brands and their marketing teams.

For marketers, it’s the big dance – the final chance to increase sales before the end of the year. It’s also a golden opportunity to enhance your brand visibility, and engage with your audience in more meaningful ways. 

However, there’s a catch – every brand knows this. With an avalanche of promotions, offers, and sales inundating the market during the 12 weeks between Indigenous Peoples Day and January 1, standing out is a challenge.

This is where behavioral targeting comes to the rescue. It’s the modern-day equivalent of those spirits, guiding marketers to deliver the right message, in the right channel, to the right person, at the right time. In this blog, we’ll explore how these strategies unfold, much like the lessons of the spirits from Charles Dickens’ timeless classic.

What is behavioral targeting?

Before we get into the strategies we need to define behavioral targeting. It’s a tactic that delves into the past, keeps an eye on the present, and even peers into the future – much like the spirits haunting Mr. Scrooge. 

Behavioral targeting involves tailoring your marketing strategies based on a user’s behavior –  past, present or predicted. Customer behavior can be defined by a range of activities, including website visits, searches, social media interactions, and purchase history. 

By analyzing these behaviors, e-commerce brands can gain valuable insights into their customers’ preferences, needs, and intentions. During the holiday season, understanding and effectively utilizing behavioral targeting can be a game-changer for reaching your intended audience and driving the action you want them to take. 

Behavioral targeting based on historical data

Targeting holiday shoppers broadly

Nearly every ecommerce brand has a list of customers acquired in the previous years’ holiday season and haven’t engaged with the brand since, OR are known to only shop during peak season. 

By tracking how customers have interacted with your holiday promotions in the past, you can create targeted campaigns based on preferences and include personalized offers, product recommendations, and trending holiday promotions. 

Be sure to warm up this list in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday to avoid any deliverability issues.

Recommended read: Simon’s 2023 email deliverability do’s & don’ts during the holidays

Interest or wishlist-based campaigns

You can measure customers’ interest in a certain product or category based on a number of behaviors including product or category page views within a certain time frame, wishlist additions, engagement on social with product-specific content and even recent purchases. 

We suggest creating cross-channel campaigns that dynamically feature exclusive promotions on the products or categories that your customers have shown an interest in.

  • Feature products they’ve engaged with multiple times on your site within the past 6 months
  • Personalize discounts by featuring high price items that they’ve added to their wishlist 
  • Create a personalized shopping list featuring dynamic product recommendations inspired by previous browsing behavior, purchases and engagement.

We’ve seen this strategy deployed effectively in holiday countdown campaigns – i.e. 8 days of Hanukkah or 12 days of Christmas – where each day reveals a sale item tailored to a customer’s past product engagement.

Targeting customers based on their location

While not a behavior per se, location-based marketing uses a user’s known location to inform a brand’s interactions with them. The location data can be gathered across past interactions with the brand. 

The execution of this strategy can vary during the holidays, and often depends on the brand, the type of campaign, and individual user or cohort.

Location-based targeting can offer a ton of value to brands with brick and mortar stores. For instance, you can set a geofence around a store location and trigger a push notification to customers in the surrounding area with a special offer to entice them to stop by.  

You can also use customer location to personalize the content of your email. DonorsChoose did a very effective Holiday email with a subject line and link that was dynamically personalized based on the customer’s location, within a certain radius. The email below was sent to customers within a 30 mile radius of the Boston area.  

Use weather data

Similar to the previous strategy, you can use a weather API, such as WeatherAds, to personalize email, SMS, push and even paid social promotions to dynamically feature weather-appropriate products based on the customers location, or even trigger weather-specific campaigns. Your website is a great channel to deploy this strategy because it doesn’t require any dependence on 3rd party cookies. Pairing Simon’s CDP with on-site personalization tools like Dynamic Yield enables our clients to further personalize the website experience with weather-specific imagery, and thus deploying a consistent strategy across all their digital marketing channels. 

Targeting based on loyalty

Rewarding your most loyal customers is an excellent way to show your appreciation and keep them engaged with your brand.  Build a segment of customers with the highest customer lifetime value and offer them exclusive discounts, free gifts, or early access to holiday sales. Optimize your outreach to these customers by analyzing their channel engagement across SMS, email and push and prioritizing the channel that they prefer. 

Targeting trendsetters

Build a segment of customers that frequently engage with items marketed as new or popular. Send them targeted communications across email, SMS and paid social featuring hot or trending items, holiday gift guides and influencer-generated content to provide social proof.

Source: 8Sleep’s Father’s Day Gift Guide via Really Good Emails

Behavioral targeting using real-time data

Ensure your abandonment flows are optimized for holiday shoppers

In an e-commerce context, the definition of abandonment is relatively simple: did the shopper make a purchase, or did they leave your website?  But if you dig deeper into the customer journey leading up to a purchase, you can quickly uncover that “abandonment” is an oversimplification of a much more complex set of customer behaviors along the path to purchase. 

This is especially true during the holidays. Consumer behavior is fickle and oftentimes the abandonment trends you see during peak holiday shopping season can differ compared to other seasons. 

Recommended read: what behavioral economics and psychology says about customers during peak season

That said, abandonment events – abandon cart or abandoned browse – are a critical moment for brands. Most buyers who abandon a purchase right before hitting the payment button can be brought back via targeted communications. Here are a few strategies to consider:

Abandon Cart Strategies

  • Shorten the time delays for abandoned cart notifications during Black Friday, Cyber Monday or any other major promotions.
  • During BFCM, move the SMS touchpoint higher up in the journey to create more urgency.
  • Use SMS to send any last minute updates, including end-of- sale or shipping deadlines. 
  • Overcome uncertainty by leveraging social proof and influencer generated content to encourage customers to come back and complete their purchase.

Abandon Browse Strategies

  • Again, shorten the time delays for abandoned browse notifications during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other time-sensitive promotional periods.
  • Create a segment of frequent browsers – customers who have viewed a product detail page or category page multiple times. Send targeted communications featuring these products in the days leading up to and over the course of BFCM. 
  • Use flash sales. Alert customers who have previously viewed items of same-day flash sales on similar brands or products. Include low-inventory messages to double-down on urgency. 

Optimize your post-purchase experience

Getting the customer to convert is great, but one-off orders don’t make for great brand longevity.

Brand loyalty is not built on products anymore – and many brands fumble the ball when it comes to post-purchase experience – the whole journey from that first purchase to the moment your customer holds the product in their hands, to the next time they engage with your communications. The path towards becoming a loyal customer hinges on how you speak to your customers, how you make them feel, and what you do to keep that connection alive after that first deal is sealed.


According to Crazy Egg, SMS messages have a 98% open rate within the first 90 seconds of sending. This means if you’re not using SMS in your post-purchase experience, you should. Here are some strategies to incorporate SMS into your post-purchase journey:

  • Shipping alerts are highly effective during the holidays when customers will be stressing about ensuring their gifts arrive on time. Use SMS to let customers know when their order has been shipped and when it is out for delivery.
  • Share relevant content to help customers get more value out of the product they purchased.
  • Invite customers to your loyalty program and offer them credit towards their next purchase.
  • Recommend relevant add-on products based on recent purchases.

Create a separate post-purchase experience for gift purchases

If a customer places an order in during the month of December, adds a gift note, and ships it off to an address that’s not their own – they’re practically screaming “I’m sending a gift!” from the rooftops. And when brands treat these gift orders like any old regular purchase, they miss an opportunity to craft an experience that is truly relevant.

Our suggestion? Create a unique segment and cross-channel journey for gift orders. But to do this, you need to first define what indicates a gift order.

  • The order is for a gift card or gift subscription
  • The customer has selected gift wrapping or added a gift note
  • The customer has sent the order to a different shipping address
  • The order is for a gift bundle created specifically for the holidays
  • The purchased products were all part of a gift guide collection or gift-specific emails

Your first email should include a reference to the fact that their purchase was a gift. You may want to include relevant information about returns if there are any complexities there. Your next touch points – regardless of channel mix – should encourage the customer to shop for themselves and offer additional discounts. Brands that do this well offer customers a chance to indulge themselves. When they bite, that’s your opportunity to show them the full shebang: the products, the experience, everything they missed out on the first time around.


Behavioral targeting using predictive analytics

Here we are in 2023, and it seems like everyone has suddenly become an AI expert – pontificating about its potential impact on business, marketing, and consumer behavior.

There’s no denying AI’s prowess in sifting through oceans of data and uncovering the dazzling patterns within has given brands newfound abilities to anticipate customer needs. But let’s not get sidetracked by endless rhapsodies about AI’s potential.

Regardless of what’s to come in the future, the holidays are looming and marketers have a job to do now.  Leveraging predictive models and algorithmic personalization enables you to deliver a customer experience that is–or damn-near close to–1:1. We’ve seen predictive models used effectively in the following ways:

  • Recommend products – leverage predictive models to sort through customer profiles, engagement, behaviors and purchase histories. By uncovering patterns within this data, you can recommend products, or bundles of products to certain cohorts of customers that are likely to buy them.
  • Target your best customers – If you know who your best customers are – be it based on attributes, lifetime value, AOV or a combination of these data points – leveraging lookalike models can help you attract more of the same, thereby lowering acquisition costs and increasing all the metrics that follow. (Pstt here’s more information on how to optimize your ad spend with a CDP.)
  • Pinpoint at-risk customers – Churn propensity models can predict the likelihood that a customer will churn by analyzing a variety of datapoints, including customer behavior, transaction history, demographics, and more. Once you’ve identified who’s at risk, you can take proactive measures to retain them by offering specialized promotions.

In conclusion

As the 2023 holiday season approaches, remember that the magic of effective marketing is simple: by understanding your customers on a deeper level, you’ll be able to connect with the in more meaningful ways. Behavioral targeting is a critical marketing strategy for deploying data to unlock the potential of the holiday shopping season, allowing brands to create impactful experiences and memorable connections. As you embark on your holiday marketing planning, we hope you find these tips useful and and that they help you set the stage for a successful holiday season.

Case Studies

Request a Demo