Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deep Dive

Article by John Landsman CATEGORIES: Trends & Analysis TAGS: ,

As the Black Friday/Cyber Monday excitement tapers off, we’re taking our customary look at some of the retail email activity that supported these events, especially in their immediate run-up. 

Our view in this Blogpost covers thirteen major multi-channel retail brands, for the period between November 21st and December 2nd, the latter date being Cyber Monday.  We compared this activity with that of last year, whose comparable period occurred one week earlier.  Key activity and performance data appear in the table below. Highlights:

  • Overall email campaign activity by these brands was heavy, Amazon and eBay being the most prolific mailers; Kmart and Barnes & Noble the lightest. Year-over-year activity trends were a mixed bag.  Seven brands decreased their campaign activity; six brands increased. Amazon’s decrease was the largest change we saw in this group. 
  • Inbox performance, measured here as the percentage of campaigns exceeding 90% deliverability, also covered a wide range of performance.  Amazon owns the strongest of this metric; Dicks Sporting Goods the weakest. This metric improved YOY for five of these brands, but eroded for the other eight.  Notably, despite its inbox prowess, Amazon is among the group whose inbox performance declined, albeit only slightly. 
  • Read rate performance, measured as the percentage of campaigns exceeding 20% read rates, also covered a wide range.  Target and Kohl’s owned the high end; Dicks Sporting Goods and Kmart the low end. Those same two brands were the only ones showing a YOY decline in that metric.
  • Emails specifically themed to Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday had, for most brands, a surprisingly light presence as a percentage of the total period campaign activity.  This percentage ranged from a high of 25% for Staples, down to 3.7% for Target. Versus last year, six of the brands increased Black Friday/Cyber Monday–themed activity as a percentage of their period totals.  Among those with the largest YOY changes (all increases) were Amazon, Kmart and JC Penney. 
  • For most of the analyzed brands, Black Friday/Cyber Monday themed emails do not drive better engagement than other emails being deployed by those brands during the period of analysis. Only Amazon, eBay, Barnes & Noble and Office Depot can showed better read rate performance for their Black Friday/Cyber Monday themed campaigns than for others deployed in the same period.

Note: Table reads: e.g, for Amazon:  Deployed 9.429 total campaigns in the relevant 2018 period; 6,350 in the comparable 2019 period.  92% of those campaigns achieved 90% or better deliverability in 2018, versus 89% in 2019. 41% of those campaigns drove 20% or better read rates in 2018, versus 63% in 2019.   Of the 2019 total, 355 campaigns (2.6%) had Black Friday/Cyber Monday themed subject lines. 87% of those achieved 90% of better inbox performance, and 69% of those had read rates of 20% or higher.

  • Other highlights:
    • The earliest Cyber Monday reference belongs to Amazon, and appears on November 8th.  The bulk of Cyber Monday themed activity ramps up over the Thanksgiving weekend and into Cyber Monday itself. 
    • We continue to see Cyber Monday evolving into “Cyber Week,” referencing “Cyber Days” and “Cyber Deals.”  All but four of these brands (Barnes & Noble, Kohl’s, Macy’s and JC Penney) continued to mail “Cyber” references past Cyber Monday itself.  Still, Black Friday references during the analyzed period period exceed Cyber references by about 3.5 to one.

Best Performers

The tables below show examples of the best performing Black Friday (top table) and Cyber Monday (bottom table) themed emails during the analysis period. Campaigns in both tables are sorted by read rate.

For Black Friday: 

  • Most of the subject lines are explicitly promotional, with words like  “deals,” “savings” and “doorbusters.” 
  • The earliest of these deployed eight days before Black Friday itself, but only one explicitly offers pre-Black Friday sale access, with wording like “preview.” 
  • There are no explicit references to featured merchandise categories.
  • The three with redactions seem to have personalized to the recipient’s name.

For Cyber Monday:

  • Only three of the twelve featured messages deployed on Cyber Monday itself.  Six deployed the day before; one two days before, and one the day after.
  • All are implicitly or explicitly price-promotional.
  • Two carry explicit time-urgency; one exclusivity.
  • One seems to connect an abandoned cart to possible Cyber Monday savings.
  • Only one references a merchandise item or category.

For both Black Friday and Cyber Monday-themed campaigns, mailing quantities — except for eBay’s, even the largest ones — reflect relatively small percentages of the respective brands’ audience sizes, indicating some targeting and presumably curating of content to specific customer segments.