November 29, 2013

Live Blog: Black Friday Email Marketing Trends

by Jim Davidson, Manager of Marketing Research

6:10 PM

This is the final post for the day.  Thanks so much for joining me as we stepped through one of the biggest shopping days of the year!  I'm ending with the 5-6pm hour where email volume nearly tied with 2012.  There will probably be a few bumps over previous years before the day wraps.  You can join me this Wednesday for a Webinar covering a full recap of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all things in between.  See you then!

5:12 PM

Retailers are dialing it up during the late afternoon / early evening hours.  For the second hour in a row, email volume has been higher than previous years and the 4-5pm hour was down only 2% from 3-4pm. This boost to the inbox will be there to greet recovering store shoppers who are ready to buy online or those who are still out and about trying to find stores rolling out new deals.

The actual gain year-over-year in 2013 for the 4-5pm hour was +3.3%.  This back-to-back increase comes one hour before a 2012 spike between 5-6pm.  I suspect that we may see a dip in the next hour though we won't dip too far below the 2012 rate.

4:10 PM

As I predicted earlier in the day, there has been a mid-afternoon jump in email volume.  With Black Friday being diluted into Thanksgiving and online retailers wanting to target folks who are back home from the stores to shop, the jump seemed likely this year.  I'll venture to guess that this pop in traffic will happen again before things truly start slowing down.

The 3-4pm hour now claims the third highest jump in volume for Black Friday 2013 so far with a +3.7% leap over 2012. It looks like many retailers hit the snooze button (or took a quick nap) during the past two hours but are making up for lost time.

3:34 PM

I made another cup of coffee because I thought I was starting to see things.  I'm several hours into this blog and wanted to make sure I wasn't dozing off.  I wasn't... Remailing can be very effective but on Black Friday, when many retailers will send more than one email within the day, sending duplicate (or nearly duplicate) copy can frustrate subscribers and lead to increased spam complaints and potentially delivery issues.  On a day when retailers are likely offering multiple promotions, why not change things up rather than sending duplicates and introducing that risk.  Here's a double and a triple mail for you.

First from Aveda: (6am and 3pm)









...and Jos. A. Bank.  This design has been used 9 times in 2 days as of this post: (6am, 11:45am, 1:30pm)












3:08 PM

Well, the good news is that traffic is back up after an unusually slow one o'clock hour.  The current buzz on Black Friday sales is that they are up but just slightly.  It looks like email traffic is experiencing a similar trend. I'm still curious to see if there will be more significant lift in the mid- to late afternoon.

Email traffic between 2-3pm pretty much broke even compared to 2012.  The year-over-year trends usually stay pretty close for the back-end of the day though, between the late Thanksgiving and shortened post-Cyber Monday shopping window, things could shake up a bit as we start closing out the day.

2:58 PM

I've seen fewer special characters in subject lines and animated gifs in email designs that I expected.  I'm guessing that retailers wanted to decrease the risk of using methods that can introduce risks like special characters that don't render correctly or animations that take too long to download on mobile devices.  The only thing I've seen so far today that is a bit of a flub is this email from Hammacher Schlemmer where the background image layer broke through the product image table making the product names and price points difficult to read.  I can't believe things have been oops-free so far.

The office supply folks have been doing a great job illustrating various ways to buy.  This email from Staples is the first I've seen today that featured a way to order by phone in the main offer.


2:11 PM

Eek!  Did everyone who clicks send go to lunch at 1pm?  The 1-2pm hour was super slow dipping below the traffic rates for the past 2 years.  Web traffic usually also dips down during this time of day so perhaps marketers are using the hour to give their subscribers a chance to rest up before getting back into the shopping zone.

The hour also becomes the first place winner (loser?) of biggest year-over-year dip going -3% below 2012.


1:15 PM

Overall email volume continues to hover slightly above the previous year.  The top-of-the-hour boosts are perking up the downward sloping trend that's been happening since 7am.

The 12-1pm hour saw the fourth highest year-over-year bump (so far) at 2.5%. A random mix of extended Thanksgiving sales, extended Black Friday doorbusters, new sale launches and sale expiration reminders help to bump up the mid-point of the day.

12:47 PM

Traffic has been slowing down over the past couple hours.  Here are two quickies to share.  Perhaps the large design was meant to grab the eyes of consumers who are quickly sifting through their inboxes or this large design was meant to make the offer easier to read on mobile devices.  It's probably a bit of both but this Crate&Barrel email definitely stood out among the crowd.

After seeing hundreds of Black Friday emails today, I found this Lucky Brand email's play on the name refreshing and clever.


11:15 AM

There was a 4% drop in volume in the 10-11am span compared to the previous hour. We may be starting to hit the mid-day nosedive in email traffic though I'm hoping we see retailers switch things up in the afternoon.  I mean, with Thanksgiving taking some of Black Friday's mojo and Cyber Monday cementing the other side of the weekend, the afternoon is clearly a slow traffic opportunity to get your message seen! Plus store shoppers are likely heading home to buy the items they couldn't find in-store!

2013 nearly tied with the previous year.  The sharp hits and dips may be over for the day making way for the afternoon taper.  Hope not!

10:55 AM

There are holiday campaigns and there are Black Friday campaigns.  Interesting choice by Orvis to send a gift guide promo with no Black Friday references, savings amounts, price points or product shots on this crazy day.  They like to switch things up so I'm sure it was a calculated move.

I mentioned how it is important to factor in your triggered messages on days when you are increasing your mailing frequency and props go to eBags for dressing up their "Steal of the Day" email by adding in multiple holiday-specific content areas.  This is a great way to maintain any ongoing campaigns (including your abandoned cart reminders) while still reaching gifters.

Nearly every marketer is trying to optimize email messages for mobile devices.  Many are developing new responsive templates or collecting additional data about the mobile shopping behaviors of their customers.  This email from West Elm shows that you don't have to do a ton of heavy lifting to design an email that is beautiful and functional for mobile and PC users.  All shopping calls to action are easily tappable and clear enough to read regardless of the screen size.  Note that this design does not use responsive design (from what I can tell).




10:36 AM

Black Friday email volume was back up in the 9 o'clock hour but still way below the 7 o'clock hour peak. This is the time of the day when volume has traditionally started to slump downward for the rest of the day.  I'm curious to see if we will get a few afternoon bumps this year.  The early start to shopping due to Thanksgiving beefing up combined with the later start this morning could lead to a larger Black Friday PM push.

While Black Friday email traffic hasn't beat the 7-8am hour, the year-over-year increase for the 9-10am hour is the largest leap of the day so far. Perhaps some retailers are staggering mid-morning messages to get into the inbox as shoppers wake up in different time zones.

10:25 AM

You can now click and view full-sized email samples.

10:15 AM

The non-Black Friday Black Friday trend continues!  The multi-channel retailers are getting in on the trend too.  Brooks Brothers' "Thanksgiving Sale" is available online and in-store and completely Black Friday free!

Great promo example of bridging online and in-store by OfficeMax.  They consistently do a fantastic job of outlining buying options but this design effectively outlines the shopping, buying and pick-up options giving the shopper a way to shop exactly how they want.






10:05 AM

This is the day when shoppers want the best deal.  The logistics of planning the shopping day means that time is of the essence.  I love all of the easy-to-digest emails I've seen today.  I'm going to include a few year-over-year design examples to show how some have shortened up this year... but there are a few emails that are making shoppers do some extra work on this frantic day of shopping.  Avon is offering mystery savings to Black Friday shoppers.  I wonder how many busy shoppers will want to spend the time solving a mystery today.

Horchow launched a "Finders Savings Event" asking shoppers to search their site for color-coded savings.  Sounds like a lot of work to me on a day when I'm getting hit with tons of deep discounts that are fully disclosed in the inbox without hunting.  I'm sure Horchow fans who were eager to search the site for deals loved this but the promo may be a barrier for first time buyers and gifters.

With consumers hopping between stores and online, clicking and tapping across PCs and mobile devices, it's important to remind potential buyers about additional services you offer like free returns and gift packaging.  Great example from Neiman Marcus.




9:20 AM

Here comes the data!  The super-early hours of Black Friday continue to decline in email traffic compared to 2011 and 2012 with even more marketers pushing messages out in the 7 o'clock hour. There was a 3% bump in the 3 o'clock hour but the bigger leaps came a few hours later.  As shown in some of the sample emails in this post, there seems to be less of a focus on doorbusting at actual stores. Some of that is relieved by more stores being opened on Thanksgiving Day.  I wonder if this is going to make for a busier afternoon since Black Friday is clearly not just an early morning event! Bring it!

The steep 5% increase in email traffic between 7-8am quickly dropped during the 8am hour. The pre-lunch push of emails could lead to marketers adjusting their afternoon mailing plans based on sale data. The push later in the morning also targets many consumers when they are waking up at their normal time and checking inboxes.  No more setting your alarm for 3am to get the best deals!

8:00 AM

It's not Black Friday!  It's Thanksgiving Weekend... No wait, it's Cyber Weekend... even before Cyber Monday??? Many mid-morning emails are shifting messaging away from Black Friday and either extending Thanksgiving messaging or starting early with Cyber Weekend sales.  Cyber Week messaging has increased over the past years as retailers try to extend the busy buying season beyond the actual 24-hour periods of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but with Thanksgiving falling so late this year, it looks like some retailers want to get a head start on getting "cyber" like this Black-Friday-free email from Bellacor.

Pottery Barn too skipped the Black Friday hubbub and decided to give thanks all weekend with their "Thanksgiving Weekend" sale.  Honestly, many shoppers now think of long lines, early morning and lack of inventory when they think of Black Friday.  Perhaps evoking the Thanksgiving Day of food, fun and family will give a warmer, fuzzier way to shop.

Gymboree's Thanksgiving Sale is promoted rather than a Black Friday specific offer.  Perhaps retailers are also feeling exhausted with Black Friday madness and are enjoying the evolution of Thanksgiving into its own shopping day.



This "sleep late, enjoy your coffee & don't miss a deal" email from online-only retailer Linensource is clever but it was sent at 6:04am.  This messaging may have made more sense if I got it last night before I set my alarm for 4:30am!  I'm looking forward to seeing how online-only retailers continue to messages shoppers throughout the day... especially in the afternoon when may store shoppers are returning home.

Speaking of timing... Michael's sent a pre-sale announcement for their "Friday Night Madness" sale which starts at 7pm on Black Friday.  I love that they are going after late-day sales when many folks may have been come home empty handed and exhausted but the early morning timing of this message and inability to shop the sale could frustrate shoppers who are up early and ready to shop.


7:00 AM

Time for a few oddballs.  Many retailers have year-round daily deal emails, but I'm always surprised to see that these emails are sent on major shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday without any reference to the day.  On a day when so many retailers are sending multiple messages, it's important to factor in any triggered emails that can add to the increased cadence. This email from Vivaterra includes a single product, one-day offer with no reference to Black Friday.


Oriental Trading Company started Black Friday off with a reminder that there are only two days left to get free shipping on any order.  Black Friday deals only received a secondary banner placement.  Hmmmm....








Consumers have to be confused about when stores are open, deals are available and when they will get the best deal.  I've been impressed with the number of messages I've received so far that are dedicating prime real estate to clarifying offers.  This Old Navy emails distinguished between online and in-store offers and gives a link to check for store hours, but the top of the email reads "Now Through Friday." With so many retailers offering Cyber Week specials, this messaging may give some subscribers the idea that they have a week to shop, not just Black Friday.

6:30 AM

Welcome to a day of Black Friday email fun!  I'm starting the day off with some early morning stand out emails.  I'll start rolling out the data a bit later but it looks like we are off to an excellent start! 

So far today, many retailers have taken a simple, straight forward approach to their messages.  The overwhelming, product and offer heavy emails have not been seen as much as expected. All of this can help guide shoppers to their preferred channel so they can start shopping as quickly as possible. 

While many electronics focused emails will take the kitchen sink approach and show tons of gadgets an gizmos, h.h.gregg continues their to-the-point approach with their doorbuster announcement email.





Eddie Bauer gave their shoppers the info they needed to start shopping online or in-stores.  Online shoppers are reminded of free shipping and return options and are given basic navigation to start shopping.  Store shoppers were given a find a store call to action that could easily be tapped on a mobile device.

Journeys spoke directly to in-store shoppers directing them to find the "was $ / now $" savings tags for the best deals.

Be sure to refresh this page to get the latest updates!








Are you ready for one of the busiest shopping days of the year? Join me and get all of the data you need for Black Friday 2013 as it happens! I will be right here in this post live blogging hourly trends, sharing standout emails and answering your questions all day long.

Look forward to email sending trends down to the hour and how Black Friday 2013 stacks up against 2011 and 2012.  You can use this data to better understand when inboxes are getting slammed and how you should time your emails (and remails!) throughout the day or to just get a better idea about how the day is progressing.

I may even throw in some insights into Thanksgiving Day trends for your inner data nerd to enjoy.


See you this Friday bright and early!

Jim Davidson
Manager of Marketing Research

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Jim Davidson, Manager of Marketing Research

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