With 2022’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, and two more weeks left in December, let’s look at what we can see of Holiday-related retail email thus far, and share key insights and email best practices for successfully supporting Holiday.
For retailers, there is no more important season than the Christmas Holiday period, which mostly comprises November and December. Depending on the retail vertical, Holiday can generate up to 35% of annual retail sales, and drive an even larger percentage of annual profits. Email marketing has become an enormous supporter of the Holiday promotional effort.
Conventional wisdom places the gateway to Holiday as the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend period, immediately following the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. And in fact, supporting that entry is where we see the bulk of related email activity truly ramp up.
What We’re Seeing
MessageBird deployed about 3.2 billion emails this year on behalf of senders on each of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is up from the two-week average of 2.4 billion prior to Black Friday.
And that’s only what MessageBird sent. The table below shows sixteen billion total Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails observed across eight retail verticals in a permissioned global consumer panel whose email we track.
(*Note: Read Rate is our proxy for Open Rate.)
Black Friday and Cyber Monday themes are extensively used in early Holiday email. The highest volumes were sent by Apparel, Accessories, Retail and Department Stores (4.2m and 4.4m respectively); Toys and Games sent the lowest. Excepting Sporting Goods, all categories drove inboxing to 90% or higher. Read rates cluster in the 12-14% range, with Retail and Department Stores the highest, and Jewellery and Watches the lowest.
However, Black Friday/Cyber Monday themed emails are only a small share of total volumes being deployed by these senders during this period. None of these verticals have Black Friday/Cyber Monday themed mailings that exceed 16% of the respective vertical’s total emails for the period analyzed.
That distinction is important. Black Friday/Cyber Monday-themed mailings tend to be promotional, with aggressive discount offers. These are less focused on individual merchandise categories curated and personalized for specific customer segments. The more targeted approach usually reflects other Holiday period mailings. As a result, the latter also tend to drive somewhat higher subscriber engagement.
One noteworthy takeaway from our observations is the importance of recognizing the realities of event timing in planning Holiday email activity.
Amazon, with its massive audience, market dominance and email sophistication, has typically launched their seasonal campaigns long before most other retailers. Competitors need to be aware of this pattern and plan accordingly.
Even aside from “Black Friday” having long ago been co-opted by almost everyone as a year-round promotional device, the fact is that Black Friday and other Holiday promotions are appearing earlier and earlier in the retail’s fall season. We’re seeing evidence of increasing Holiday references even before September. Concerns about supply chain issues may account for some of this earlier emphasis.
“Cyber Monday” references and promotions now typically extend into “Cyber Week” or “Cyber Days,” visible well into December.
Finally, the retail Holiday season doesn’t end on December 25th. With post-Christmas clearance and other promotional events, related activity usually extends through much of January.
How to beat industry average performance
Email best practices that properly address the importance of Holiday are not unique to Holiday. But these best practices take on more importance during Holiday, because it’s of such critical importance. These best practices are all focused on optimizing inbox performance and user engagement, as the two metrics are symbiotically related by the importance attached to engagement in ISP spam-filtering protocols. And we can’t overstate the importance of optimizing inbox performance. Messages that don’t reach the inbox can’t be opened, clicked-on or bought from. Forrester has stated, “Take deliverability seriously, or leave money on the table.” If you monetize your email programs and know their value, you can easily show the annual revenue upside of even small improvements in inbox performance. Many factors can affect the outcome, but we’ve seen cases where even a 1% improvement in email inboxing can yield a 5% improvement in related revenue.
Use an active, positive opt-in protocol in acquiring email subscribers to your commercial or marketing emails.
Don’t any form of passive opt-in, in which the potential subscriber is automatically opted-in through some small print as part of a purchase transaction, with or without an option to uncheck an opt-in box, or to otherwise unsubscribe.
We actively discourage the use of any purchased email lists, which tend to be expensive, unproductive, and a big source of spam complaints.
Importance of Welcome Emails
Promptly acknowledge an opt-in, ideally with a Welcome email to the new subscriber, which arrives within minutes of the opt-in. The Welcome email should include a description of the type and frequency of messages to be sent, as well as clear opt-out procedures.
Address cleansing: All new email addresses should be subject to basic screening to ensure that they contain essential and valid elements. Your ESP will almost certainly perform this service.
Periodic Email Change of Address (ECOA) Processing: A significant percentage of email addresses become undeliverable every year. The main reason is that your subscribers change their email addresses and fail to notify you. You may see this happening through the emails that ‘bounce’ or become longtime open/click inactives. There are vendors who can help you do this. They will then send out a Permission Message to the updated email addresses, to ensure deliverability and permission. This message includes an email change of address link, permitting the capture of the customers’ current preferred email address.
Facilitating subscriber email change of address: Your website and emails should contain clear indication of how a subscriber can change an email address. A significant number of email opt-outs are merely trying to change their email addresses. During the opt-out process, ask the subscriber if they’re actually trying to change their email address, and if so, divert to that process instead. That way, the entire subscriber record can be saved.
Don’t email any customer who hasn’t opened/clicked your emails and/or browsed your website in the past 90-180 days, and/bought in the past twelve months.
Consider re-opt-in/reactivation programs for inactives (however defined). In these, the targeted email/purchase inactive subscriber is acknowledged as such, and asked if s/he wishes to continue receiving your email. Although these are important programs, they should not be attempted during the Holiday period, given the inbox risks associated with over-mailing into inactive audiences.
A large driver of spam complaints and email opt-outs are untargeted or mistargeted messages. A subscriber is much more likely to engage with an email if it’s relevant; that is, targeted to likely customer interests, based on data reflecting customer location, status, preference and browse/purchase behavior. Audience and program optimization require considerable data and programming resources, but successful execution drives improved audience engagement, which In turn drives better inbox performance.