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Black Friday email marketing strategy: The retail perspective

Email is a vital marketing channel for retailers during the holidays. Explore survey results on how retail email marketers strategize for Black Friday.

Hermes and a Goddess shopping in front of a sofa



Some people call the holidays “the most wonderful time of the year.” But let’s be honest, if you’re an email marketer who works for a retail brand, it’s also the craziest, busiest time of the year. It may feel as if the entire organization is counting on you to get things right.

Email strategy drives web traffic, foot traffic, and sales during the holiday shopping season. Black Friday email marketing efforts get everything started. So, what’s your plan for this shopping season?

Curious about what your peers in the retail email world are doing? You’re in luck! Pathwire and Ascend2 conducted a survey of B2C marketers to find out how different verticals and types of companies approach email marketing in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. See all the results in the exclusive report, Email is the new Black [Friday].

Arguably, Retail is the most relevant B2C vertical during those Black Friday consumer spending sprees. That’s why we decided to break out the results from this segment to uncover insights that will help retailers with their holiday email marketing strategies.

Meet the retail email marketers

Before we dive into the results from retail marketers, you probably want to know a little bit about who these people are., Let’s take a look at the retail respondents in our survey to provide some context.

Retail email marketers made up 20% of survey participants, which included five other B2C verticals. So, retail organizations were well represented. In our report, “Retail” included any brand that identified with online shopping, grocery, or fashion.

Of those retailers, 45% work at small businesses, 21% are with mid-market companies, and 34% come from enterprise organizations.

We defined Enterprise as any company with more than 500 employees, Small Businesses as those with 50 or fewer employees, and Mid-Market as any company with a headcount between 50 and 500.

As you apply the results to your own Black Friday email marketing efforts, keep in mind that different business sizes will have different approaches. For example, smaller retailers are more likely to be local shops. These businesses may rely on foot traffic at brick-and-mortar locations just as much or more than online sales. Enterprise retailers will have more resources and much bigger budgets than small brands.

Factors like this are just a reminder that, ultimately, your Black Friday email marketing strategy will always be unique to your business and subscribers. Sure we’re all special,  but at the same time, examining a wider perspective can open your eyes to trends and possibilities.

Black Friday email frequency for retailers

Staying top of mind during the holidays is a big hairy deal for retailers. There’s a lot of noise (not talking about annoying carolers here) and a lot of Black Friday emails being sent throughout November. Our survey revealed that retailers do tend to have an aggressive cadence this time of year.

Retail segment responses

Nearly a quarter of survey respondents (24%) from our survey are sending multiple campaigns daily in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. A total of 72% of retail email marketers send at least two emails per week.

While retailers seem to have a higher sending frequency than other B2C verticals, the rest aren’t far behind. The majority of Entertainment and Home & Auto respondents, for example, say they are sending at least two emails per week. (69% for Home & Auto. 61% for Entertainment). 60% of all respondents reported a bi-weekly cadence or more for Black Friday email sends.

On the other side of the spectrum, 48% of those in Professional Services are sending less than one Black Friday email per week. These marketers aren’t necessarily slacking off. It’s more likely that Black Friday email marketing makes less sense for their brands. So, not everyone is being quite so prolific with Black Friday campaigns.

Top Black Friday email tactics for retailers

We asked survey respondents to select “advanced email marketing tactics” from a list of eight possibilities. They could choose any and all tactics that applied to their Black Friday email campaigns.

Here’s how that list breaks down for retail email marketers:

  1. Personalized product recommendations: 52%

  2. Dynamic content based on product price/availability: 52%

  3. Click to add to cart/purchase functionality: 41%

  4. Interactive email design: 28%

  5. Cart abandonment automations: 21%

  6. Embedded video/animation: 21%

  7. Split testing content and design: 17%

  8. Dynamic content based on subscriber location: 17%

  9. None of the above: 14%

Black Friday email personalization and customization

Personalizing emails with products that match a subscriber’s preferences is something more than half of retailers are doing. However, it’s important to remember that the holidays are a bit different. Your subscribers are primarily shopping for gifts for friends and family, which means you may want to adjust your strategy for recommendations and list segmentation.

More than half of retail email marketers are also including dynamic content in campaigns,  updating elements such as price and product availability whenever the email is opened. That tactic can be extremely valuable in a time when inventory may run out and prices and promotions are constantly changing. This kind of dynamic email content keeps customers informed, helps customer service reduce calls, and protects your brand’s reputation.

Holiday shopping inside the inbox

The ability to add items to an online shopping cart or even purchase something from inside an email is a tactic that greatly reduces friction. Fewer clicks equal fewer distractions and a higher likelihood that your subscribers will make purchases.

At 41%, our survey results indicate retail marketers are the most likely to be using add-to-cart functionality in email campaigns. Other B2C verticals that are likely to use this tactic include Health & Beauty (38%), and Entertainment (35%). These types of companies are also likely to have ecommerce operations that sell physical or digital products online.

Abandoned cart emails represent one area where retailers (and frankly all segments) could be doing more. Just 21% of retail email marketers claim they’re using cart abandonment automations for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, as consumers jump from site to site looking for the best deals, it may be wise to remind them to come back and buy what they left behind in their cart before it’s too late.

Black Friday email ROI for retailers

When you’ve got a solid strategy, email marketing almost always pays off big time. 2020 statistics from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) suggest email generates $35 for every $1 invested in the channel. That’s an impressive return on investment (ROI).

But how do retail email marketers feel after the rush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is over?

We asked survey participants how much they agree with the following statement:

“We see a significant increase in email ROI as a result of our Black Friday email promotions.”

Retail segment responses

Interestingly, at 27%, the Retail segment was the second most likely to disagree with that statement, surpassed only by Professional Services at 30%. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that 73% of retail marketers do see a significant ROI from Black Friday campaigns.

But aren’t the holidays a time for retail to shine? Shouldn’t retail email marketers be raising their champagne glasses to toast a job well done? We get it. Some retail marketing teams feel a little let down after all the insanity. Maybe expectations for Black Friday and Cyber Monday were a bit too high? Just remind yourselves, your efforts are worth more than one weekend a year!

Email inboxes get super crowded as the calendar creeps toward U.S. Thanksgiving, and the goals set for this time of year can be awfully aspirational – maybe even unrealistic. There could be a bit of a letdown for retail marketing teams once Black Friday is over.

In general, it seems email marketers in retail feel sort of underwhelmed by the ROI of Black Friday campaigns. More than 75% of respondents from all segments either moderately agreed or moderately disagreed with the statement in our survey. Only 3% strongly disagreed that Black Friday emails produce a significant ROI, while 21% strongly agreed with the statement.

Get more insights into Black Friday email marketing

We’d all like to feel excited about the results of our Black Friday email marketing efforts, right? So, wouldn’t it be interesting to learn more about the habits of the most successful marketers?

That’s one thing you’ll discover in Pathwire’s full report on this survey, Email is the new Black [Friday]. We’ll also provide you with expert advice for optimizing your holiday email marketing efforts. So, get your free report now and start exploring more of the results.

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Black Friday tips and template

Tips and design ideas for Black Friday and Cyber Monday email marketing. Check out these Black Friday email examples and try our free email template.

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