Black Friday and Cyber Monday—Email Tips for 2017

The ultimate shopping experience is upon us yet again, and deal-hungry consumers are ready to hand brands their money. For retailers depending on eCommerce to get the job done, a review of holiday email practices and five tips on handling 2017 seems appropriate.

To give you the best advice available, I teamed up with Courtney Sembler, Inbox Professor at HubSpot Academy, and Carl Sednaoui, Director of Marketing and Co-Founder at ‎MailCharts. The email data included in this blog comes from MailCharts’ analysis of top 1000 internet retailers’ (IR1000) emails that included “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” in the subject line.

Last year, e-commerce and email crushed it

According to Adobe Digital Insights, consumers generated $12.8 billion in online spend in the U.S. during the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday in 2016. U.S. e-commerce revenue reached a record $3.34 billion, a 21.6% year-over-year growth rate.

Black Friday 2016 was the first day to generate more than a billion dollars in online sales from mobile devices. Mobile’s $1.2 billion in revenue was an increase of 33% from 2016.

Email marketing was the third-highest e-commerce driver in 2016, according to Adobe, with 17.8% of online sales originating from the consumer inbox. While the revenue attribution of search ads and direct website traffic outperformed email, the assisted impact of email on the customer journey is not as clear.

Average Email Sent Per Company

Retailers sent more mail during both shopping events in 2016 than 2015. They also began to extend the campaign flights, with many beginning earlier and sending later.

Percent of Promotional Emails

In this omnichannel world, messages that are read but fail to convert directly into revenue (i.e., click thru-to-purchase) are likely influencing the customer’s journey in the same way “assisted conversions” do for AdWords campaigns. Emails inspire shopping research, drive direct website traffic, foot traffic to brick and mortar, and good ol’ word of mouth.

Let’s get visual

According to IR1000 performance, the year-over-year (YoY) use of animations, including GIFs, tripled for Black Friday (27.4%) and grew more than 3% on Cyber Monday (21.8%).

Average Animated Rate

We suspect a factor in the big increased use of animation is due to the courting of the growing Gen Z audience. Currently, Gen Z carries around a $44-billion wallet and they’re influencing $600 billion in family spending. But by 2019, tens of millions of Gen Z-ers out of the roughly 72 million of them in the United States will enter the workforce. In 2020, they are forecasted to possess approximately $3 trillion in purchasing power. Oh, and they’ve grown up on digital, so they aren’t in the mood to read wordy messages.

Payless Cyber Monday 2016 Email

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of GIFs and why you should considering using them, check out the 250ok blog 4 Ways GIFs Improve Email Engagement.

Subject line insights

Black Friday subjects lines shortened (50.5 characters) and Cyber Monday’s lengthened (51.6 characters), arriving at a more consistent character count.

Average Subject Line Length

The IR1000 increased emoji use for Black Friday (9.7%) and reduced use for Cyber Monday (7.6%) in what appears to be a curious reversal of approach. Maybe we’re overanalyzing, but the trend is interesting.

Percent of Emoji in Subject Line

The elusiveness of the mobile email experience

A 250ok analysis of sender data for Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2016 revealed nearly 50% of email opens occurred on mobile devices, which plays nicely with other industry reports.

Average Mobile Rate

However, while increases in the mobile optimization rate increase YoY, only 40% of Black Friday and 42.2% of Cyber Monday messages were optimized for mobile. What’s the delay in achieving mobile optimization? Again, as Gen Z continues to grow their spend, retailers must provide a flawless mobile experience, as early data shows this demographic is twice as likely to shop on a mobile device than Millennials.

5 email marketing tips for 2017

  1. Customer first – Put the customer experience first and consider asking if they want to receive increased email volume during the holidays. Doing so might reduce notorious holiday list churn and drive stronger brand loyalty.
  2. Extension – A recent survey by RetailMeNot reported 45% of shoppers plan to begin holiday shopping before November. Consider extending campaign flights in both directions; start earlier, run longer. For example, Carl Sednaoui from MailCharts recommends, “If you’re looking to maximize your Black Friday exposure, consider launching a Black Friday Weekend campaign instead.”
  3. Effective design – Powerful visuals with clear CTAs are key for emails that convert. Additionally, make sure your emails work across all platforms and devices your customers use before you hit send.
  4. Authentication – According to the Online Trust Alliance report released in June 2017, half of the top 100 US retailers and a third of the top 500 lack proper email authentication and security. Don’t let phishing attacks ruin the holidays.
  5. Ask the right questions – Ask customers to add what they’d like to purchase from you to their cart—this will reduce friction during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday frenzy. Encourage customers with items in their cart to checkout in order to claim your holiday discount or offer.

Looking forward to 2018

For marketers wanting every email advantage possible, consider signing up for the HubSpot Academy’s relaunch of their email marketing certification program in January 2018.

View the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Inbox Experience (2017) infographic below.

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