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A Last Look at Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Article by John Landsman

The 2018 Holiday shopping season officially launched over Thanksgiving weekend, with its usual spectacle.  That particular weekend has always been a peak buying period, but online shopping has both intensified the activity and simplified the process.  Still, there was surprisingly heavy traffic at traditional brick and mortar locations, especially for retailers who’ve more effectively integrated online with in-store shopping, to reduce “friction” typically encountered with the latter.  Retailers are thrilled that sales for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday have registered robust year-over-year increases.  And they’re also thrilled because this year’s Holiday calendar generously affords five full shopping weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Such is not always the case.

In our recent look at this year’s early email run-up to Black Friday/Cyber Monday, covering the first two weeks in November, we noted heavy overall email activity among the thirteen major retail brands we analyzed, but also that emails specifically referencing Black Friday comprised a surprisingly small percentage of that total:  0.3% – 0.4% of total period campaigns for most brands.

We knew that pattern would change as Thanksgiving approached, and change it did.

Our updated view in this current Blogpost includes the same thirteen brands, and covers the period between November 15th November 26th, the latter date being Cyber Monday.  Key activity and performance data appear in the table below.  Highlights:

  • Overall e-mailing activity by these continued heavy, increasing versus last year for all brands except eBay, Kmart and JCPenney.
  • Inbox performance, measured as the percentage of campaigns exceeding 90% deliverability, improved for all brands except Target and Office Depot, whose deliverability eroded; and Macy’s and Best Buy, whose deliverability performance was unchanged.
  • Read rate performance, measured as the percentage of campaigns exceeding 20% read rates, improved for Dick’s Sporting Goods, Barnes & Noble, Kmart, JCPenney and Office Depot; but declined for the other brands.
  • Versus the earlier run-up period, emails specifically themed to Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday increased their presence within the total flow, but still averaged only about 5% of total activity. Staples and JCPenney had the largest shares (34% and 18%, respectively); Target the smallest (2.5%).  Versus last year, eight of the brands increased Black Friday/Cyber Monday–themed  activity as a percentage of their period totals.
  • 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.
2018: 11/15 - 11/262017: 11/16 - 11/27 Total Campaigns Black Friday/Cyber Monday Campaigns
2018 2017 2018 2017
Brand Camps Dpld >90% Inbox >20% Read Camps Dpld >90% Inbox >20% Read Camps Dpld % Total >90% Inbox >20% Read Camps Dpld % Total >90% Inbox >20% Read
Amazon 9429 8674 3884 8247 7541 3541 242 2.6% 213 138 284 3.4% 251 195
% 92% 41% 91% 43% 88% 57% 88% 69%
eBay 1527 1294 661 1691 1326 808 203 13.3% 175 50 107 6.3% 75 37
% 85% 43% 78% 48% 86% 25% 70% 35%
Dick's Sporting Goods 134 45 47 97 27 31 8 6.0% 0 0 9 9.3% 0 0
% 34% 35% 28% 32% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Barnes & Noble 175 164 79 133 109 57 14 8.0% 14 2 11 8.3% 9 0
% 94% 45% 82% 43% 100% 14% 82% 0%
Target 525 346 297 227 204 160 13 2.5% 10 2 5 2.2% 5 1
% 66% 57% 90% 70% 77% 15% 100% 20%
Walmart 742 682 277 474 338 204 92 12.4% 88 1 83 17.5% 63 2
% 92% 37% 71% 43% 96% 1% 76% 2%
Kmart 113 40 32 139 45 24 8 7.1% 0 0 5 3.6% 0 0
% 35% 28% 32% 17% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Kohl's 160 148 104 156 142 115 15 9.4% 15 4 10 6.4% 10 0
% 93% 65% 91% 74% 100% 27% 100% 0%
Macy's 282 229 173 190 154 117 32 11.3% 26 11 19 10.0% 18 5
% 81% 61% 81% 62% 81% 34% 95% 26%
JC Penney 103 98 60 108 100 57 19 18.4% 19 5 17 15.7% 17 1
% 95% 58% 93% 53% 100% 26% 100% 6%
Staples 293 125 109 278 117 106 99 33.8% 28 21 46 16.5% 12 11
% 43% 37% 42% 38% 28% 21% 26% 24%
Office Depot 150 75 69 143 74 65 13 8.7% 4 0 22 15.4% 0 0
% 50% 46% 52% 45% 31% 0% 0% 0%
Best Buy 404 353 209 349 304 210 50 12.4% 46 4 46 13.2% 44 11
% 87% 52% 87% 60% 92% 8% 96% 24%

Note:  table reads: e.g, for Amazon:  Deployed 9.429 total campaigns in the relevant 2018 period; 8,247 in the comparable 2017 period.  92% of those campaigns achieved 90% or better deliverability in 2018, versus 91% in 2017.  41% of those campaigns drove 20% or better read rates in 2018, versus 43% in 2017.   Of the 2018 total, 242 campaigns (2.6%) had Black Friday themed subject lines.  88% of those achieved 90% of better inbox performance, and 57% of those had read rates of 20% or higher.

  • Other highlights:
    • The earliest Cyber Monday reference belongs to Office Depot, and appears on November 5th. Understandably, the bulk of Cyber Monday themed activity ramps up over the Thanksgiving and into Cyber Monday itself.  Increasingly, we’re seeing Cyber Monday evolve into “Cyber Week,” as many brands attempt to leverage the event “branding” as much as they can.  Still, Black Friday references during this analysis period exceed Cyber Monday references by a factor of three or four to one.
    • We studied a new wrinkle this year: the referencing of either Black Friday or Cyber Monday in the brand’s so-called “Friendly-From” field.  Thus, the visible “From” appears as follows:
    • Of the thirteen analyzed brands, all but Kmart appear to be using this technique, and they’re doing so in most, but not all, of their comparably themed emails. For most of these brands, emails so designated reflect somewhat higher read rate performance than those not using this Friendly-From.   Inbox performance does not appear to have been materially affected.

Best Performers
The tables below show ten examples, each, 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:

  • Seven of the ten subject lines are explicitly promotional, with words like “sale,” “deals,” and “special.”
  • Five offer various kinds of pre-Black Friday sale access, with wording like “early,” and “preview.” The earliest of these deployed eight days before Black Friday itself.
  • Only two make explicit references to featured merchandise categories.
  • Note Macy’s use of the dramatic word, “liquidation,” a term usually applied to aggressive discounting associated with store closings
Date Brand Subject Quantity Read %
19-Nov Staples 3 words: Black. Friday. Preview. 27K 50.0%
21-Nov Macy's Macy's Liquidation | Black Friday Sale| All  Available Store Stock On Sale 20% OFF 13K 45.5%
22-Nov Amazon Shop Black Friday Deals Week in Sports & Outdoors 582K 40.0%
21-Nov eBay Early Black Friday deals are here! 13K 36.4%
19-Nov Macy's Wardrobe upgrade, anyone? Our Black Friday Preview Specials are here! 697K 27.7%
23-Nov Macy's Bloomingdales BLACK FRIDAY SALE 13K 27.3%
15-Nov Best Buy Black Friday Early Release ends today 1.0M 26.9%
22-Nov Staples Black Friday Apple Deals! Preview today - Shop tomorrow 1.3M 26.2%
18-Nov JCPenney Black Friday alert! Major deals are in. 3.3M 26.2%
19-Nov Target Black Friday early access 229K 25.8%

For Cyber Monday:

  • All but one of these messages deployed on Cyber Monday itself.
  • Most are implicitly or explicitly price-promotional.
  • Three carry implicit time-urgency
  • Only three reference merchandise categories
Date Brand Subject Quantity Read %
27-Nov Amazon Cyber Monday deals in Video Games 92K 32.0%
26-Nov Barnes & Noble Today's NOOK Daily Find: A Special Cyber Monday Sale 16K 30.8%
26-Nov eBay Take a look at what you've missed! This Cyber Monday is going to be a good one ... 70K 22.2%
26-Nov Kohl's It's Cyber Monday! Save $10 + 20% + earn $15 Kohl's Cash for every $50 spent. 7.8M 18.3%
26-Nov Macy's It's the Levi's Cyber Monday Sale! Stock up and save! 940K 17.9%
26-Nov Best Buy Cyber Monday Sale on now 3.0M 17.0%
26-Nov Walmart Cyber Monday starts soon! Build your cart NOW to be ready for 12am EST. 2.0M 17.0%
26-Nov eBay Cyber Monday - get what you want in a few clicks! 57K 16.7%
26-Nov Amazon Your Prime Membership: [REDACTED] enjoy Cyber Monday Deals Week, new movies and shows and last chance books and magazines 9.8M 29.4%
26-Nov Macy's Cyber Monday is ON & the savings are BIG! 28K 18.2%

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