Black Friday: Will Retailers Learn from Last Year’s Successes and Failures?

Tomorrow is Black Friday, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. In 2015, email advertising was the single biggest channel driver of Black Friday online sales, generating a massive 25.1 percent, or £251 million, according to a report by Custora. Given that Black Friday UK online sales increased 35 percent in 2015, 2016 is widely predicted to see even greater growth, with email looking set to drive an estimated £337 million UK online sales this year. However, while this has fast become a money-spinner for retailers, it also poses a number of challenges for email marketers.

So, what did we learn from last year’s email marketing strategies, and what do we want to see this year?

More doesn’t mean money
In 2015, what was notable was most retailers refrained from spamming their email subscribers with promotional emails. While doubling email investment may seem like a good idea – after all, you want to make sure your customers don’t miss out on these big deals – there’s a catch. Your messages need to be seen. If customers are receiving email after email, it doesn’t matter how good your deals are, they will start deleting, moving emails to spam or simply unsubscribe. With Black Friday set to be bigger in the UK year-on-year, it’s also worth noting that even Microsoft and Gmail will struggle with the additional volume of emails this year and will likely ramp up their filtering to help manage this. If customers are ignoring or deleting your emails, the greater the chance of your emails automatically being labelled as spam by the subscriber’s mailbox provider. Attempts to win business in the short-term could subsequently have a damaging impact on revenue in the long-term.

It’s not surprising then that last year’s restraint largely worked in favour of retailers, with lower volumes leading to higher read rates and levels of engagement. Having loaded 15 of the UK’s biggest retailers into Return Path’s Inbox Insight solution, those that performed the best over the course of the Black Friday period – River Island, Tesco and Waitrose – all kept their email messaging simple, yet effective, with slogans including ‘Black Friday now on!’ or ‘20% off EVERYTHING for Black Friday’. This will have the same effect this year and it’s likely we will see some retailers take a different approach by not explicitly referencing Black Friday itself. We’ll be looking into who does this and how effective this was in our next Black Friday blog.

Timing is key
Timing was also everything back in 2015. Some retailers start promoting their Black Friday deals in the weeks leading up to the big day, however, this can lead to subscriber fatigue.  While it’s a good idea to build up expectations and excitement in the lead-up to the event, this should only really take place in the few days prior. When we analyse email performance in the lead up to this event, it will be interesting to see how many retailers took this strategic approach.

When to send emails on the day was also important last year, with the majority of retailers pushing out emails before dawn. This tended to work well, with customers appearing to make a conscious effort to wake early and purchase their deals. Indeed, last year we saw 65 percent of Black Friday emails read in the pre-dawn period, when we would normally expect this number spread across both the pre-dawn and morning time-frame. If retailers took advantage of this last year, it’s likely we will see this again. With promotional emails reaching customers’ inboxes before they wake up on the day, it will undoubtedly result in a spike in customer transactions.

Black Friday is big business for retailers, however, it’s a fairly recent phenomenon in the UK, so is a learning curve for many email marketers. As the big day gains momentum, it’s crucial that retailers adapt each year depending on what does work and what doesn’t so that they can get the right balance of exposure, engagement, and sales. When we analyse this year’s email marketing successes and failures, it will be interesting to see if trends have changed and who has adapted their email programs successfully.

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